Facts about cholesterol and triglycerides
- Blood cholesterol is a fat-like matter needed in our bodies. It is carried in the blood by low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol, as it can build up in your arteries, making the arteries hard and narrow. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol, as it carries cholesterol back to the liver, where the liver recycles the cholesterol.
- Triglycerides are a type of fat in your blood. Our body converts any excess calories into triglycerides, which are then stored as fat.
- Ask your doctor for your cholesterol and triglyceride targets. For most people living with cardiovascular disease, LDL should be less than 2.0 mmol/L, triglyceride should be less than 1.8 mmol/L, and HDL should be greater than 1.0 mmol/L for men, or greater than 1.3 mmol/L for women.
Complications of high cholesterol and triglycerides
- Cardiovascular disease (heart & arteries): High cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood can cause plaque in the arteries. When plaque develops in the arteries, it can reduce blood flow to the vital organs, and could lead to heart disease, stroke, or peripheral vascular disease. Plaque buildup in the arteries of the heart is known as coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis. Coronary artery disease is one of the primary causes for having a heart attack and for developing heart failure. For more information on heart failure, visit our Heart Failure section.
- Kidney damage: Chronic kidney disease can occur if plaque develops in the arteries of the kidneys, reducing kidney function.
Improving your cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Regular physical activity and exercise: Aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise each week and resistance training a minimum of twice per week.
- Healthy eating: Choose whole grains that are rich in fibre (such as whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, etc.) and try to include healthy fats (such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and/or fatty fish) in your diet. Limit foods high in saturated and trans-fat (such as red meat, pork, poultry with skin, dairy products made from whole fat milk, and foods that include modified or hydrogenated oils).
- Reduce smoke exposure: Exposure to smoke can reduce your HDL levels. When planning to reduce exposure to smoke, develop a plan and get support. For more information on smoking, visit our Smoking & Your Health section.
- Limit alcohol intake: Alcohol can increase your triglyceride levels. To improve your cholesterol levels, you may want to limit your alcohol consumption. For more information on alcohol, visit our Alcohol & Your Health section.
- Medications: Always take your medications as prescribed. If you are having trouble adhering to your medication routine, speak to your pharmacist or family doctor.
- Know your numbers: Ask your doctor to check your cholesterol and triglyceride levels at least once yearly. When you have your blood work done, always ask your doctor for a copy. Good self-management of your health starts with knowing your blood cholesterol and triglyceride numbers and keeping track of these numbers over time.
Want more information?
- Speak to your Exercise Therapist, pharmacist, or family doctor.
- View our Cholesterol, Triglyceride & Your Health handout
- Attend our Heart Healthy Education series: Heart Healthy Eating, Understanding Heart Medications, and Exercise and Vascular Health.
- Book an appointment with our Registered Dietitian.
- Speak to your Exercise Therapist to be referred to our Smoking Cessation Service.