Health Care

The Power of Prevention: A Comprehensive Guide to Healthy Cholesterol Levels

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Knowing your cholesterol numbers is an important step in keeping yourself healthy. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for several serious health conditions, including stroke and heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. In fact, people with high cholesterol are twice as likely to have heart disease than people with normal cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Cholesterol is a waxy substance made by the liver. Your body uses it to make hormones and digest fatty foods. This kind of cholesterol is called blood cholesterol. The second type of cholesterol, dietary cholesterol, is found in meat, seafood, poultry, eggs and dairy products.

Because the body makes all the blood cholesterol it needs, experts recommend eating as little dietary cholesterol as possible to maintain a healthy diet.

Blood cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Healthy levels of cholesterol are:

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol: at least 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol: about 100 mg/dL
  • Total cholesterol: about 150 mg/dL

LDL is considered “bad” cholesterol because it can cause plaque buildup in the arteries, leading to heart disease or stroke. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol because high levels in the blood may help reduce your risk.

The problem with cholesterol is that you can’t tell if your levels are too high. Since there are no symptoms, the only way to know is to have your levels tested by your doctor.

In both kids and adults, high cholesterol is considered a total cholesterol level of above 200 mg/dL. This is called hyperlipidemia and is linked to a higher risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 86 million people age 20 or older in the United States have hyperlipidemia. That’s why we recommend checking your cholesterol levels every four to six years after your 20th birthday.

High Cholesterol Risk Factors

Certain health conditions, including Type 2 diabetes and obesity, can also put you at a higher risk for developing high cholesterol.

Other risk factors for high cholesterol include:

  • Eating a diet high in saturated and trans fats
  • Family history of high cholesterol
  • Limited physical activity
  • Smoking

Preventing High Cholesterol

You may not be able to control certain risk factors for high cholesterol, like your family history. Still, there are plenty of ways you can improve your numbers, such as being intentional about the following:

Alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can raise your cholesterol levels and increase your risk for other health conditions, like cancer. The National Institutes of Health recommends men have no more than two drinks per day and women have no more than one.

Diet

Dietary guidelines for cholesterol emphasize focusing on a healthy diet instead of a specific cholesterol target. That means eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean animal protein or plant protein sources, and a diet low in salt, added sugars, and trans and saturated fats.

Physical activity

Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol levels. Just by making small changes, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, you can help maximize your health. Adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle strength activity each week.

Tobacco

If you don’t currently smoke, you can help your health simply by not starting. If you do smoke, however, cutting the habit can help lower your risk for heart disease. That’s because smoking damages blood vessels and speeds up the hardening of arteries.

Weight

Because excess body fat affects how the body uses cholesterol and slows down its ability to remove LDL cholesterol from the blood, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight. You can talk with your doctor about what a healthy weight is for you and, if you need help reaching it, work with them to develop a nutrition and exercise plan.

Cholesterol Treatments and Therapies

If changing your lifestyle habits doesn’t do enough to lower your cholesterol levels, you may need medication. Statins, which block a substance the body needs to make cholesterol, are common medications used to lower cholesterol levels. Another common treatment is using cholesterol absorption inhibitors to prevent cholesterol from being absorbed in the intestine.

Your doctor can help you design a personalized treatment plan that works for you and your health needs. And if your doctor wants you to take a medication, make sure you take it as prescribed.

Whole Health Cholesterol Care

High cholesterol can become a serious issue if left unmanaged. If you’re worried about your cholesterol, reach out to your doctor. Together, we can determine your health care needs and help you regulate your cholesterol levels.

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