What are the Good Cholesterol Numbers

One of the best ways in maintaining good heart and overall health is getting your cholesterol levels under control. It is recommended by The American Heart Association (AHA) that all adults who are 20 years old, or older, to have their cholesterol levels checked once every five years. There are three different categories of cholesterol levels: LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol. In addition to recommendations for each of these categories, The AHA also provides recommendations for triglycerides a major type of blood lipid, which numbers are included in the total cholesterol level calculation.

What is Cholesterol and its Functions?

The majority of people have a negative view on cholesterol, but in fact, cholesterol plays a vital role in the effective functioning of the body. Cholesterol is a sterol, as its name suggests. The chemical structures of sterols are similar and consist of multiple rings along with a side chain. Sterols’ function involves sending chemical messages within the body. Cholesterol is found in many tissues, including the nervous system, the brain, and every cell of the body, and is essential to life. Without cholesterol, the body cannot function effectively. It strengthens and stabilizes the membranes of cells. In a healthy body, cholesterol is involved in making other sterols. These include bile acids, adrenal hormones like cortisol, sex hormones like testosterone, and vitamin D.

Overview of the Cholesterol Types

Cholesterol cannot be dissolved in the blood. According to the AHA, it has to be carried by lipoproteins to and from the cells. There are two basic types of lipoproteins. The first is what we know as the “bad” cholesterol – this is the low-density protein or LDL. The second is the “good” cholesterol – high-density lipoprotein or HDL. Studies have revealed that LDL cholesterol can cause build up on the artery walls which may lead to heart disease, while HDL cholesterol actually guards against heart problems. The total cholesterol count in the human body is made up of HDL, LDL, and triglycerides (a type of fat that is made within the body).

Why is High Cholesterol Risky?

High levels of cholesterol in the blood cause a health risk. This is because cholesterol can leave deposits on the artery walls, and these deposits can lead to atherosclerosis. Fatty streaks form within the arteries and blood clots form along these injuries. The blood clots and plaque restrict the flow of blood, which causes a rise in blood pressure. Further damage can be caused by the higher blood pressure, and eventually, a blood clot can block the blood flow, causing a stroke or heart attack.

What are the Healthy and Bad Levels?

HDL Cholesterol

HDL means high-density lipoprotein and it is known as good cholesterol due to its role in keeping plaque from building up in the arteries. This helps to lower the risk of stroke and heart attack. As stated by the AHA, a level of fewer than 40 milligrams per deciliter in men and 50 in women is a heart disease risk factor. Those with HDL levels above 60 have some protection against heart disease.

LDL Cholesterol

LDL means low-density lipoprotein. It is known as bad cholesterol due to the fact that it increases the risk of stroke and heart attack. A LDL level of fewer than 100 milligrams per deciliter is best, while 100 to 129 is close to optimal. Levels of 130 to 159 are bordering on high and 160 to 189 is considered high risk. A level of over 190 is very high risk.


Triglycerides are the most common type of blood lipids. Those who have high triglyceride levels are very often at risk of diabetic and heart diseases. The lower the triglyceride level, the better. The optimal level for triglycerides is 100 milligrams per deciliter. Less than 150 is normal while 150 to 199 is bordering on high. 200 to 499 is considered high risk and levels over 500 are very high risk.

Total Cholesterol

Adding your LDL and HDL levels, and then adding 20% of your triglyceride level will give you your total cholesterol level. The optimal total cholesterol level is less than 200 milligrams per deciliter while 200 to 239 is bordering on high risk. Those with a total cholesterol level of 240 or more are at very high risk.

A Chart of Cholesterol Levels to Easily Interpret Your Numbers

The simple cholesterol levels chart below enables you to conveniently interpret your cholesterol test results with the desirable, borderline and high-risk ranges of Total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and Triglycerides.

A cholesterol chart of Total, HDL, LDL and Triglycerides

Less Known Lipoproteins

Lipoprotein(a) or Lp(a)

The Lp(a) is a genetic variation of LDL cholesterol. It is still unknown what the physiological function of Lp(a) is. It seems plausible that it would play a role in the coagulation system. High levels of Lp(a) in the blood is considered as a risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD), atherosclerosis, cerebrovascular disease (CVD), stroke, and thrombosis. It seems that those with low levels of Lp(a) are healthy. Although further standardization is needed, the following are the approximate levels of risk:

Desirable: Less than 14 mg/dL

Borderline risk: 14 to 30 mg/dL

High risk: 31 to 50 mg/dL

Very high risk: more than 50 mg/dL

Very Low-Density Lipoproteins (VLDL)

VLDL are molecules that are mostly made up of triglycerides (55-65%) with other particles at small percentages of 5-15% : cholesterol, phospholipids, and proteins. Very low-density lipoproteins are also known as the “very bad” cholesterol, and they carry mainly triglycerides and other lipids from the liver to all of the tissues and organs in the body. They also serve as a precursor to LDL (low-density lipoproteins). It is difficult to measure VLDL levels routinely, therefore these are usually estimated as a percentage of the triglyceride levels. A VLDL cholesterol level between 5 and 30 mg/dL is normal. Reducing your triglycerides will also reduce your VLDL levels.

Diet Improvements and Changes in Lifestyle

delicious low cholesterol diet fish recipeLosing weight, increasing dietary fiber, and eating fewer trans and saturated fats are positive examples of lifestyle and dietary changes. High cholesterol is commonly connected to obesity; and when you have one, you usually have the other. It is advisable to consult a dietitian to make sure you have the healthiest eating plan for your body. Your LDL cholesterol is negatively affected by saturated fats like whole fat dairy products, vegetable oil, red meat and egg yolks. In fact, it is recommended that you limit your intake of these fats to under 7% of your daily calories. Trans fats can be found in snack foods and baked goods. Trans fats are actually worse for you than saturated fats, and should, therefore, be completely eliminated. Foods that are high in fiber, like fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes, lentils, whole grains, and oats, contribute to lowering your LDL by absorbing it within your intestines and then flushing it from your body efficiently. In addition to the dietary changes, increasing the amount of daily exercise you get helps to not only strengthen your heart but to also lower your cholesterol. A minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day will achieve this.

List of Available Medical Treatments

There are times when medical treatment may be necessary. This is particularly true when there is a case of genetic predisposition to cholesterol. There are several options of drugs that are designed to lower cholesterol. These drugs include:

Bile Acid Sequestrants: these are designed to decrease the amount of fat that the body absorbs from food.

Statins: these drugs block the liver from making cholesterol.

Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors: they decrease the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food, as well as lowering triglycerides.

Vitamins and Supplements: Niacin blocks the liver from removing HDL, as well as lowering triglycerides; Omega-3 Fatty Acids increase the level of HDL while lowering triglycerides.

Consult your healthcare provider in order to determine which type of drug would be best for you. It is important to understand that even if you begin to lower your cholesterol using drug treatment, you will need to include lifestyle changes in your treatment. Since these drugs can cause many side effects that can trigger other health issues, it is advisable to keep the dose of medicine as low as possible – and changing your diet and lifestyle will enable you to do that.