It seems like everyone these days is concerned about cholesterol. Whether it is the marketing of the food industry or because it is something we really need to be thinking about, cholesterol levels are now becoming more popular than blood pressure numbers. Now that everyone is considering their cholesterol levels it is important to understand what those numbers mean.

When you get your cholesterol tested, which is normally part of a standard blood test during a physical, the report you get back will often have three numbers. These numbers are for total cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein), and HDL (high-density lipoprotein). What do each of these numbers mean and which ones should you be concerned about?

In the past, most people were just concerned about the total cholesterol number. If you asked someone what their cholesterol was they would often just repeat the total number, leaving out the other numbers. Total cholesterol for a healthy adult should be 200mg / dL or lower. However, in recent years it has become known that the total number is not always very important. It is the other two numbers that are important.

LDL is considered the 'bad' cholesterol. While you do need some LDL, having too much is a bad thing that may lead to a higher risk of heart disease. Cholesterol is actually needed for many functions of the body, including the building of hormones as well as for the structure of the brain, and it is the LDL molecules that delivers cholesterol around in the blood to where it is needed. However, if you have too much LDL this can lead to a process that ends with plaque buildup in the walls of your arms. This then causes a higher risk of heart attack or stroke.

Ideally, LDL levels should be below 100mg / dL. Though, levels of 100-129mg / dL are just fine. You do not want a level higher than 129mg / dL. If you do have high levels of LDL your doctor will discuss options you can do to lower the amount of LDL in your blood.

On the other hand, HDL is considered the 'good' cholesterol. You actually want this number to be high. HDL also carries cholesterol, but it carries it out of the blood stream and into the liver, where it is used to create bile. If you have more HDL this means that more cholesterol is taken out of your blood stream, lessening the chance for heart disease.

Your HDL level should be 40mg / dL or higher. Any number higher than 60mg / dL is great.

The next time you see the report from your latest cholesterol test you should now recognize the different numbers. You can focus less on the total cholesterol number and more on what actually makes up that total number.