Every person has cholesterol in their cells. The liver produces it, and you ingest it in the meat and dairy items you ingest. Some cholesterol is important for your body to function properly. Too much is bad and can clog the arteries and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
How Cholesterol is Measured
Before blood is drawn to test cholesterol, your parents may have to fast. Doctors have differing opinions, so you should call and ask. If fasting is recommended, it means only water should be consumed for about 12 hours before the test. Ideally, your parents would have the test done the morning after dinner and before they have breakfast.
Cholesterol is measured by counting the number of milligrams of cholesterol in a deciliter of blood. There are four types of cholesterol:
LDL – Bad cholesterol that creates the plaque that blocks arteries
HDL – Good cholesterol that helps remove bad cholesterol
Non-HDL – Total cholesterol after the HDL has been removed)
Triglycerides – Not technically a form of cholesterol but high numbers can indicate a higher risk of heart disease
Ideally, you want to get these numbers on a cholesterol test:
Total Cholesterol – 125 to 200 mg/dL
LDL – Lower than 100 mg/dL
HDL – 40 mg/dL or higher for men and 50 mg/dL for women
Non-HDL – Lower than 130 mg/dL
Triglycerides – Lower than 150 mg/dL
What happens if cholesterol levels are too high? Depending on the numbers, diet and exercise may be enough. Otherwise, there are prescription medications to help lower cholesterol levels.
Dietary Changes for High Cholesterol
Red meat and baked goods are often out if cholesterol levels are high. They can contain a lot of saturated fat. Fried foods, butter, chocolate/candy bars, and processed foods are all a problem.
Your mom or dad needs to focus the diet on healthier options. The DASH Diet lowers saturated fat, increases whole grains and fiber intake, adds plenty of fresh produce, and lowers sodium. If your parents smoke, smoking impacts cholesterol levels and is a habit to give up.
Losing weight is important. If your parent isn’t very active, it’s time to get your mom or dad to move around. Daily walks, bike rides, exercise classes, and swimming are all good ways to get your parents to exercise.
Genetics can lead to high cholesterol. So can age, so there may be nothing your parents can do. That’s when the doctor may prescribe medications to lower cholesterol levels.
Elderly care aides are a good resource if you know your parents will have a hard time remembering to take their daily pills. Call an elderly care agency to learn more.