There are many factors that influence good cholesterol in women: age, diet, lifestyle and menopause, to name a few. What is Cholesterol? It’s a waxy substance found in two places: your liver produces it, and cholesterol comes from animal products you eat (think meat, eggs, and cheese). Like many things in life, cholesterol isn’t good or bad until there is too much of it. For women, high cholesterol can lead to heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
A cholesterol test (called a lipid panel or lipid profile) involves having some blood drawn in a lab. Next, your provider will examine the results that show your levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and triglycerides (fats) and total cholesterol in the blood.
“Think of it this way,” says Monalisa M. Tailor, MD, an internal medicine physician at Norton Community Medical Associates-Barret. “You want a high level of HDL and a low level of LDL. If you have a lot of that LDL, it can get stuck in your arteries. It’s like soap scum in your home’s plumbing: a little bit gets washed away, but too much starts to build up.”
And arteries, like plumbing, get clogged. Unlike your bathroom sink, you may not notice that cholesterol has built up until it becomes a very serious health problem.
What are good cholesterol numbers for women?
“A good cholesterol [level] for a woman exceeds 60 mg/dl. We want the total cholesterol level to be below 200 mg/dl.”
This is where it gets tricky: Women generally have higher HDL than men due to the presence of estrogen.
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“The hormone estrogen reduces the total amount of cholesterol in the body, but it also increases the amount of HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol,” said Dr. tailor.
There is some evidence that estrogen also affects the immune system, which is responsible for inflammation caused by bad cholesterol buildup in the arteries.
“Estrogen could protect women against heart disease, which is potentially good news,” said Dr. tailor.
Hormone replacement therapies (HRT) or hormones taken by pill, cream, injection, or IV are not thought to have any effect on cholesterol.
“It’s really only the estrogen produced by the body that makes a difference,” said Dr. tailor.
For women, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is a great way to keep your heart healthy. It can lower your chances of getting heart disease or having a stroke.
“We recommend that adults have their cholesterol checked when they see a primary care provider,” said Dr. tailor. Low-risk individuals will be rechecked every five years. People at higher risk may need rechecks every three years or more, depending on risk factors.
“Talk to your doctor. They will. Help you determine the best schedule for cholesterol checks,” said Dr. tailor.