What are normal cholesterol levels?
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in the cells in your body. Cholesterol is found in some foods, like meat and dairy products. Your liver is responsible for making cholesterol. Your body needs it to function properly. There are two types of cholesterol — high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.
The total cholesterol in your body is the amount of cholesterol in your blood. It consists of both LDL and HDL cholesterol. The good cholesterol, HDL, helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. The bad cholesterol, LDL, is the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in your arteries. Too much LDL can put you at risk for a stroke, heart attack, or other heart problems.
Cholesterol levels vary by age, weight, and gender. As you age, your body will produce more cholesterol. As an adult, you should check your cholesterol levels every four to six years to make sure you’re in a healthy range.
Normal range for cholesterol levels
Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Below are the healthy levels of cholesterol, based on your gender and age:
Children age 19 and younger
The total cholesterol you want is less than 170mg/dL. You want less than 100mg/dL of LDL. You also want more than 45mg/dL of HDL. If your child’s LDL cholesterol levels are higher than an adult’s, your doctor may prescribe a treatment plan and lifestyle change.
Women over 20
The total cholesterol women want ranges from 125 to 200mg/dL. Their LDL levels should be less than 100mg/dL. They should have 50mg/dL or higher of HDL.
Men over 20
A normal range for men’s total cholesterol is 125 to 200mg/dL. Men will want less than 100mg/dL of LDL. You will also want 40mg/dL of HDL cholesterol.
Causes of changing cholesterol levels
Your cholesterol levels will change as you age, most likely increasing. There are a number of causes for changing cholesterol levels. They include:
If you eat foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol, it will make your total cholesterol level rise. The saturated fat is the main cause. This type of fat comes mainly from animal food products. You can find it in meat, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, deep-fried foods, and processed foods. These foods make up a typical American diet, and consuming a lot of these foods is cautioned against.
Weight and physical activity
If you are overweight, your risk for heart disease increases and so do your cholesterol levels. Not being physically active also contributes to a risk for heart disease and high cholesterol levels. Exercising daily and losing weight can help lower your bad cholesterol, LDL, and increase your good cholesterol, HDL.
Smoking can lower your good cholesterol, HDL, making it harder for your body to remove cholesterol from your arteries.
Age and gender
As you age, your total cholesterol levels increase. Women have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. But when a woman goes through menopause, her bad cholesterol, LDL, tends to rise.
It’s important to know your family history of heart disease and cancers if applicable. How much cholesterol your body makes is partly determined by your genes. High cholesterol can run in your family.
When to see the doctor for cholesterol levels
Cholesterol levels change as you age, and the normal range for your gender and age may change. If you are over the age of 20, you should see your doctor every four to six years to get bloodwork done and to determine if your cholesterol levels are at a healthy range. If your cholesterol levels are high, your doctor may determine a treatment plan to help you reduce them.
Diagnosing cholesterol levels
Once you’ve scheduled an appointment with your doctor, they will check your cholesterol levels with a lipid profile blood test. The nurse will take a small sample of your blood from your arm or finger.
Your doctor may ask you to fast before getting your cholesterol levels checked. If you’re having a complete lipid profile done, you should not eat or drink anything other than water for eight to 12 hours before the test. Your doctor may also ask about your family’s heart health history, if you’re experiencing additional symptoms or problems, and medications or supplements you’re taking.
Treatments for high cholesterol levels
If your doctor determines that your cholesterol levels are borderline or too high, they may start you on a management plan to lower your levels. Ways to manage your cholesterol levels include:
Your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medication, like statins, if you are at an increased heart disease risk. Statins are used as a preventive measure because they treat plaque buildup in your arteries.
Diet and lifestyle
According to Erin Michos, M.D., quoted in Johns Hopkins Medicine, diet and lifestyle are very important to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Reducing the amount of saturated fats you eat and exercising for at least 30 minutes a day for five days a week can help you lose weight and reduce your cholesterol levels.
Limit smoking and alcohol intake
If you smoke and your cholesterol levels are high, you are at greater risk for artery buildup which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. If you are able to, you should consider a plan to give up smoking. Limiting your alcohol consumption can also help lower your triglycerides and total cholesterol levels.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Why Cholesterol Matters for Women."
Medical News Today: "What should my cholesterol level be at my age?"
MedlinePlus: "Cholesterol Levels: What You Need to Know."
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "The Basics: Cholesterol Test."