Cholesterol Levels – Are normal levels good enough?

Interested to know if your cholesterol levels are normal and healthy?

Great, because this page will help you interpret your cholesterol numbers so you can better understand your risks and set your target goals.

And better yet, you'll know right away if you need to take immediate action on how to lower your cholesterol.

Why take a cholesterol test in the first place?

You already know that high cholesterol levels are linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

And it's easy for a cholesterol problem to 'sneak up on you' since there aren't any noticeable symptoms – until it's too late. That's why getting tested and knowing your numbers is so important.

You'll want to get your cholesterol levels checked on a regular basis. Once every 5 years at a minimum – more often if you're already considered to be in the high risk category for coronary disease.

But what you're about to find out is that the biggest warning sign isn't so much high cholesterol as it is a cholesterol profile that is out of balance.

More on this in a minute, but for now I'll say this:

It's possible to have low cholesterol levels and still have a cholesterol problem. (You'll understand why in just a moment.)

Understanding Your Cholesterol Levels

A cholesterol test is actually a "lipoprotein profile" done on a small sample of blood. Most tests these days report on four major categories:

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Triglycerides

Let's take a look at the first cholesterol levels chart and dig a little deeper into interpreting your results…

Total Cholesterol
U.S. or anywhere else measured in mg/dL Europe or anywhere measured in mmol/L
Below 200 Below 5.2 Desired by most doctors
200 – 239 5.2 – 6.2 Borderline high
240 and above Above 6.2 High risk

The American Heart Association has gone so far as to say that a total blood cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL or above is "more than twice the risk as desirable level" of under 200.

But if you're above 240 don't fret (not yet anyway), because in a moment I'll explain why the total cholesterol number is the least meaningful cholesterol stat you can look at to gauge your risk for coronary heart disease.

Seems as though many doctors aren't explaining this piece of the puzzle very well to most patients. We'll take care of that today for you.

Let's keep going…

LDL Cholesterol
U.S. or anywhere else measured in mg/dL Europe or anywhere measured in mmol/L
Below 70 Below 1.8 Considered ideal for those at very high risk of heart disease
Below 100 Below 2.6 Considered preferred for people at risk of heart disease
100 – 129 2.6 – 3.3 Considered ideal for the average adult
130 – 159 3.4 – 4.1 Borderline high
160 – 189 4.1 – 4.9 High
190 and above Above 4.9 Very high

LDL (low density lipoproteins) is the bad cholesterol that does the most damage. Here's why…

The LDL type of cholesterol likes to attach to the walls of your arteries which makes it more difficult (smaller opening) for your heart to pump blood through your body.

These common LDL charts indicate that if you have other risk factors such as diabetes or high blood pressure, that you'll want to pay special attention to your LDL levels.

I agree it's important, but I suggest you pay more attention to your HDL cholesterol and make sure it's in a good healthy range. (You'll see why when we get to the HDL section.)

You might be surprised to hear that there are actually two variations of LDL cholesterol, one of which is basically harmless.

To learn more on these two LDL types, see this page on LDL cholesterol levels.

HDL Cholesterol
U.S. or anywhere else measured in mg/dL Europe or anywhere measured in mmol/L
Below 40 (men)
Below 50 (women)
Below 1 (men)
Below 1.3 (women)
High risk
50 – 59 1.3 – 1.5 Good range
60 and above Above 1.5 Highly preferred

HDL – or high density lipoprotein – is the good cholesterol. And yes, higher is better.

HDL is "good" because it helps offset or negate the bad LDL cholesterol.

What happens is the HDL carries excess cholesterol from your organs and tissues back to the liver where it can be properly excreted and dealt with.

That way, you don't have excess fats hanging around your bloodstream where they can attach to blood vessels and cause dangerous plaque build-up.

Hence, why having more HDL is so important.

It might surprise you to know that having higher levels of HDL has been closely linked to longer life. In fact, many studies suggest that having high HDL cholesterol levels is one of the most accurate predictors of longevity.

So don't get so focused on your bad LDL that you forget how beneficial this "good" HDL cholesterol really is.

Triglycerides
U.S. or anywhere else measured in mg/dL Europe or anywhere measured in mmol/L
Below 150 Below 1.7 Desirable
150 – 199 1.7 – 2.2 Borderline high
200 – 499 2.3 – 5.6 High
500 and above Above 5.6 Very high

Most of the fat in your body exists in the form of triglycerides. Get your triglyceride levels too high and it's bad news for your heart and artery health.

Are Your Cholesterol Levels Out-of-Balance?

Looking at any of these charts and numbers in isolation – even the total cholesterol number – paints at best, a partial picture.

Believe it or not, whether you have a healthy cholesterol profile has little to do with your total cholesterol level.

It's all about your cholesterol being in balance vs. your numbers being too high or too low.

What I'm suggesting is that you can have higher than normal levels of LDL and not be at an elevated risk if … IF … you have a higher level of HDL to offset it.

Of course, the opposite is true as well.

Normal levels of LDL can still be problematic if you have dangerously low levels of HDL. A level that simply isn't high enough to negate the damage the excess LDL wants to do in your bloodstream.

Make sense?

That's why myself and others believe strongly that it's more telling to look at your HDL levels, and then your ratio of HDL to both LDL and triglycerides. These numbers and comparisons will give you a better idea of your overall cholesterol health.

Cholesterol Management Tips

A few common tips you probably already know include:

  • Stop smoking
  • Get more exercise
  • Eat more whole, natural foods
  • Add in more cholesterol lowering foods

Already tried all that and still don't have normal cholesterol levels?

Unfortunately, much of the advice out there on how to approach your cholesterol problem naturally isn't very helpful.

Much of the tips you see are actually counter-productive as folks are going on super-strict diets that don't really have any effect at all on cholesterol levels.

If you've ever suffered through a bland, low-fat diet that made you tired and lethargic and it didn't do squat to get your cholesterol numbers in the normal range … you already know what I'm talking about.

Sadly, many quickly give up on lifestyle changes assuming it's "too hard" and resort to medication as their treatment option.

And while cholesterol lowering drugs do work to lower your numbers, I'm sure you know they come with a lengthy list of serious side effects as well.

Get Accurate Readings on your Cholesterol Levels

You want to be careful to follow the pre-test instructions of fasting for 9 to 12 hours before your blood sample is taken.

If you eat during that window, your last meal may unduly influence your cholesterol levels and show a much higher number than you really have.


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