Jonathan Sackner Bernstein, MD: One of the problems people have when they get their cholesterol measured is that they get a number, and they look at that number and they think that tells the whole story.
That does not tell. That's not a fair way to look at it, because your total cholesterol's actually the sum of both good and bad components.
You want to have as much good cholesterol as possible, and really a very small amount of bad cholesterol, and if you have that kind of ratio, your total cholesterol may be abnormal,
but it wouldn't be bad. That's different than if you have a small amount of good cholesterol and a very high level of bad cholesterol. Then the abnormal level truly is bad.
For that reason, I've always been upset at laboratories reporting total cholesterol without its sub-fractions.
It provides misleading information, incomplete information, and what you need to know is the good cholesterol level, the HDL and the cholesterol, your LDL.
It's not even good enough to have your doctor tell you they're okay. You need to know the numbers, you need to go to the sources that are available on web sites,
such as WebMD and government web sites, like the NIH, find out whether that's good because it's okay, or is it really optimal.
And if you're someone who also has diabetes or has a family member who has had a heart attack at a young age, then good may not be enough to reduce your risk optimally.