All About Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a form of fat that is carried through the body in two kinds of bundles, or lipoproteins. It's important to have healthy levels of both.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. In general, the lower your LDL the better. Reaching your LDL target is the most effective way to protect your heart and blood vessels.

High-density lipoproteins (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, helps remove cholesterol from your body. In general, the higher your HDL the better.

What are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are another kind of blood fat that raises your chances for a heart attack or stroke if your levels are too high.

What Should My Targets Be?

Talk to your doctor about how often you should have your cholesterol checked and what numbers you should aim for. For most people, here are the LDL, HDL and triglycerides numbers to aim for:

  • LDL Cholesterol: Less than 100 mg/dl
  • HDL Cholesterol: Higher than 40 mg/dl for men and 50 mg/dl for women is good, but an HDL 50 mg/dl or higher helps everyone lower their risk for heart disease.
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dl

What Can I Do to Improve My Numbers?

It's a good idea to have your cholesterol checked every 5 years, or more often if there's a problem. Here are some steps you can take to improve your cholesterol:

  • If you smoke, quit
  • Lose weight if needed
  • Exercise most days of the week (brisk walking for 30 minutes/day is a good goal)
  • Eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet with plenty of fresh veggies, whole grains, and fruit
  • Increase monounsaturated fats in your diet. Monounsaturated fats include canola oil, avocado oil, or olive oil
  • Your doctor may also prescribe cholesterol-lowering medicine

Cholesterol is also affected by blood pressure and blood glucose. If your blood glucose and blood pressure are high, your cholesterol numbers may be off as well. All of these are risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, and the more risk factors you have, the higher your risk. Talk to your doctor about whether you may be at higher risk for diabetes and heart disease. Then take steps to lower your risk so you can live a longer, healthier life.

For more information about cholesterol, visit the National Cholesterol Education Program.

Learn more about your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

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  • Last Reviewed: August 1, 2013
  • Last Edited: December 6, 2013

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