Your heart and cardiovascular system are continuously exposed to a variety of risk factors. High cholesterol has one of the most significant influences on the development of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). Therefore, it is commonly checked during routine laboratory examinations.
The concentration of total cholesterol in the blood is only a general indicator. A cholesterol calculator needs to be used to determine the actual risk of developing atherosclerosis and subsequent cardiovascular complications.
In this post, you’ll learn exactly how you can calculate your cholesterol and triglycerides levels to keep this risk factor under control.
What Is Cholesterol & Why Is It Important for Our Health?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is made mostly in the liver. Smaller quantities find their way into our bodies through the food we consume. Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol is not just a “bad guy.” It is a key structural component of all our cells and essential for the production of vital hormones and vitamin D.
Our body absorbs about half of the cholesterol from food. Then, cholesterol enters the blood, which already contains some quantities produced in the liver. The risk of atherosclerosis in our blood vessels increases when normal cholesterol levels are exceeded, especially if other risk factors are present.
Because cholesterol and other lipids (fats) are insoluble in water, they bind to unique proteins in the blood plasma. These unique molecules are called lipoproteins. By them, lipids can be transported to tissues and organs.
HDL vs LDL Cholesterol
There are two main types of lipoproteins in the body – LDL and HDL. The difference is in the lipid to protein ratio.
The first type are low-density lipoproteins (LDL). LDL cholesterol contains more cholesterol and less protein. To get rid of their fatty overload, they carry and release cholesterol on the walls of our blood vessels. This leads to the forming of atheromatous plaques that narrow or completely obstruct the lumen of blood vessels. Remember, atherosclerosis is one of the leading causes of CVDs like heart attack and stroke. This is why LDL is known as “bad cholesterol.”
The other type, high-density lipoproteins (HDL) are produced in the liver. HDL cholesterol contains more protein and less cholesterol. Their function is completely opposite from LDL – they take away cholesterol from the walls of the blood vessels and transport it to the liver for processing and removal from the body. In this way, HDL clears excess amounts of total cholesterol, reduces atherosclerosis, and subsequently, lowers your risk of developing CVDs. Therefore, HDL is popularly known as “good cholesterol.”
What Are Triglycerides?
Apart from cholesterol, there are other fatty substances in the blood – triglycerides. So what causes high triglycerides? In short, they are the building blocks of fats. When we eat, the body converts fat into triglycerides to act as an energy reserve. Their levels increase mainly due to unhealthy diets high in saturated fats and as a result of excessive alcohol consumption.
What Happens If High Cholesterol Goes Untreated?
High blood levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in have been linked to the development of CVDs, along with other factors such as hypertension and diabetes mellitus. The risk of damage to the vascular walls and the formation of deposits and blockages increases when there is more “bad” and less “good” cholesterol in our blood. The good news is that the reduction in total cholesterol by 1% leads to a 2% reduction in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Increased cholesterol levels may be caused by a familial predisposition as well, as is the case in about 3% of people. Usually, blood cholesterol is high from an early age and is unaffected by the diet. In these cases, specialists recommend taking lipid-lowering agents such as statins from a younger age. These drugs are prescribed and taken under medical supervision.
However, it is a myth that lipid-lowering medication can be stopped as soon as your results are within the cholesterol and triglycerides normal range. The levels may be lowered, but if you stop taking the drug, the cholesterol, and especially LDL, will rise again. You should consult your doctor about any change in your treatment.
In about 20% of the population, high LDL cholesterol levels are associated with another underlying condition such as obesity, diabetes, hypothyroidism (decreased thyroid function), increased adrenal function, and so on. Taking certain medication also leads to an increase in cholesterol concentrations in the blood. Estrogens, corticosteroids, diuretics, beta-blockers, and contraceptives are known culprits.
How to Maintain Healthy Cholesterol Levels
Only foods of animal origin contain cholesterol. The richest sources are fatty meats, chicken skin, animal organs (especially the brain, liver, and kidneys), shrimp, egg yolks, and high-fat dairy products. You should also note that if you decide to completely cut fat from your diet, cholesterol will not normalize by itself.
There are some tips on how to maintain a normal cholesterol level:
- Eat foods rich in soluble fiber
- Include the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables in your diet
- Restrict high-calorie sweet and fatty foods
- Lose excess weight and maintain a normal BMI
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Manage stress
- Quit smoking and excessive drinking
Even people with high LDL levels can eat eggs and dairy products in moderation. However, it is recommended to restrict the number of egg yolks to up to three per week. For dairy products, it is advisable to choose low-fat or non-fat cheeses, yogurts, cottage cheese, and sour cream.
Interestingly, garlic has been shown to reduce liver cholesterol production. Oatmeal has a similar effect.
A healthy diet is especially important, but it must be a lifelong change to ensure good results – crash diets won’t result in a normal cholesterol level. Other factors also affect its concentration in the bloodstream. Smoking decreases the level of HDL cholesterol and thus becomes a risk factor for the development of heart disease and vascular incidents in the brain, even when total cholesterol is at healthy levels.
Occasionally, lipid-lowering medication may be required. It is crucial to know about the interaction between statins and grapefruit, which blocks the enzyme associated with the breakdown of the drug. Too much grapefruit juice can lead to the accumulation of the drug in the body. This may not only prevent you from achieving good cholesterol levels but also increase the likelihood of side effects, the most severe of which being acute renal failure.
How to Determine Your Lipid Profile by Using a Cholesterol Calculator
Based on the results of your blood sample test, you can easily calculate the most common cholesterol parameters essential for the health of your heart and overall wellness. These include LDL/HDL, triglycerides/HDL, and total cholesterol/HDL ratios.
You need to know the four fundamental values (total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglycerides) to use a cholesterol levels calculator. In order to calculate total cholesterol, you need only three values, which are interconnected according to this formula: TC=HDL+LDL+0.2xTG (or you can just enter them in a total cholesterol calculator).
Let’s first determine the normal and elevated values before moving on to calculating their ratios which serve as reliable indicators of CVD risk.
Total Cholesterol Levels
Essentially, the complete blood cholesterol concentration is just a rough estimate of your cholesterol levels. Sometimes, these results may be misleading because they combine LDL and HDL levels in the cholesterol ratio calculator to give a single value which does not provide sufficient insight into the risks of developing atherosclerosis and CVD.
Nevertheless, these are normal, borderline, and elevated total cholesterol values:
- The normal level of total blood cholesterol should be below 200 mg/dL
- The borderline values for total cholesterol are 200–239 mg/dL
- Results above 240 mg/dL indicate high total cholesterol
HDL is a type of cholesterol which is transmitted from other areas of the body into the liver to take part in metabolism and eliminate bile acids from our body. That’s why HDL cholesterol levels are the only type where higher levels are not only allowed but recommended. Women typically tend to have higher HDL concentrations than men.
- The ideal HDL cholesterol range is over 60 mg/dL
- Borderline HDL values are 40–59 mg/dL
- Less than 40 mg/dL of HDL increases your risk of developing CVDs
Maintaining LDL concentrations within the optimal range is vital for cardiovascular health. You can enter your total cholesterol, HDL, and triglycerides values into a LDL cholesterol calculator to determine your LDL values.
- The normal LDL cholesterol range is less than 100 mg/dL
- Above ideal levels are 100–129 mg/dL
- The borderline high values are 130–159 mg/dL
- Elevated LDL values are 160–189 mg/dL
- Levels over 190 mg/dL are considered dangerously high
Triglycerides are not cholesterol, but elevated triglyceride levels may be an indication of a lipoprotein disorder. They are often accompanied by other diseases, like diabetes.
- Normal triglycerides levels should be under 150 mg/dL
- The borderline values for them are 150–199 mg/dL
- Elevated triglycerides concentrations are 200–499 mg/dL
- Very high levels include values above 500 mg/dL
Three indicators describe the risk of developing cardiovascular disease with a high level of precision. You can also use a cholesterol level calculator to get ratios of the above-mentioned values.
LDL to HDL Ratio
This ratio is achieved by dividing the LDL with the HDL concentration. It is one of the most common factors for detecting an elevated risk of heart disease.
- The optimal LDL/HDL ratio should be below 2.0
- The average ratio is under 5.0
- If the resulting value is above 5.0, this is considered an elevated ratio
Triglycerides to HDL Ratio
The triglycerides/HDL proportion is calculated by dividing the triglycerides by the HDL levels. A cholesterol risk calculator for this ratio is also used to identify the likelihood of a heart attack, though not as often as the previous ratio.
- The normal ratio is 2.0 or less
- Values between 4.0–6.0 are considered to be high
- A triglycerides/HDL ratio of 6.0 or more is considered very high
Total Cholesterol to HDL Ratio
The total cholesterol to HDL ratio calculator is used to determine their proportion in the blood. The total cholesterol/HDL ratio is considered to be the least precise in determining your health risk.
- The optimum ratio is below 3.5
- An average total cholesterol/HDL ratio is considered below 5.0
- And an elevated ratio is above 5.0
How Does a Cholesterol Calculator Work?
Some LDL calculators operate using the Friedewald equation (1972) while others use the Iranian lipid profile calculation formula (2008). Based on the blood sample results for total cholesterol, triglycerides, and HDL, it calculates LDL cholesterol levels. The second equation is often suggested for those with a small carbohydrate intake when the triglyceride content is smaller than the mean value required.
You can choose to type the three values into the cholesterol calculator as mmol/L or mg/dL according to the obtained results from the lab.
- Fridewald equation: LDL=TC-HDL-TG/0.5 (mg/dL)
- Iranian formula: LDL=TC/1.19+TG/1.9-HDL/1.1-38 (mg/dL)
- Friedewald equation: LDL=TC-HDL-TG/2.17 (mmol/L)
- Iranian formula: LDL=TC/1.19+TG/0.81-HDL/1.1-0.98 (mmol/L)
How is cholesterol level calculated?
The concentration of cholesterol is measured in a blood sample. The total level of cholesterol is the sum of the “good” HDL, the “bad” LDL, as well as the VLDL cholesterol. It is recommended to determine cholesterol separately from the rest of the fats in the lipid profile.
How do I check my cholesterol at home?
Currently, it is possible to measure your cholesterol levels at home by portable instruments. Usually, this device allows regular measurement of at least two parameters – blood sugar and cholesterol. The accompanying kit contains everything you need to measure both values individually: needles, test strips for glucose and cholesterol, etc.
How can I check my cholesterol without a blood test?
Cholesterol cannot be measured without a blood test. Moreover, the testing is performed after a minimum of 9–12 hours of fasting. Levels should be measured at least every five years in anyone over the age of 20.
What is a normal cholesterol ratio?
The optimal LDL/HDL and triglycerides/HDL ratios should be below 2.0, while the total cholesterol/HDL ratio should be below 3.5 to be considered as normal.
How can I lower my cholesterol fast?
It is not recommended to lower the level of cholesterol fast. With a proper diet and regular physical activity, it is possible to reduce the levels within the normal ranges. However, if the levels are dangerously high, cholesterol-lowering therapy could be prescribed, which can reduce the levels faster than the lifestyle changes.
Keeping your cholesterol levels under control is one of the most important ways of preventing cardiovascular problems. Although a cholesterol calculator is a useful tool, it should be known that the required cholesterol fractions of a person and their health hazards may vary. Do not hesitate to consult your physician to cross-check your results with those calculated by professionals.