What is considered a healthy cholesterol level?

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Cholesterol is a type of fat that’s carried in the blood. About ¾ of the cholesterol in our bodies is made in the liver and the rest may come from the types of fats we eat. Your genes will also partly determine what your blood cholesterol levels are, as will your diet and lifestyle.1

Cholesterol is carried in the blood stream in particles called lipoproteins. These are named according to how big they are:1

  • The intermediate size ones are called Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL). Too much cholesterol circulating within LDL in the bloodstream may lead to heart conditions.
  • The very large particles are called Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDL). These molecules transport the most triglycerides, a type of fat, attached to the proteins in your blood.
  • The smallest particles are called High Density Lipoproteins (HDL). These particles help keep our hearts healthy by picking up excess cholesterol in the blood stream and taking it back to your liver.

What is a healthy cholesterol level?

Health authorities recommend that total cholesterol levels should be no higher than 5.5 mmol per litre for most people. This figure may be lower for people who smoke and also depends on their current blood pressure levels and cardiovascular health status. If you fall into this group, please seek advice from your healthcare professional.2

Another important cholesterol measure is the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL which ideally for women is 4.4 and for men, 5.0. A low ratio is a good indication of healthy cholesterol balance. To calculate, divide your total cholesterol by your HDL cholesterol. For example, if your total cholesterol is 7.0, and your HDL is 1.5, divide 7.0 by 1.5. This gives a result of 4.6, a slightly higher figure than desired. The LDL to HDL ratio is also useful to know. To calculate this, divide LDL cholesterol by HDL cholesterol. It should be no higher than 2.5.These ratios indicate whether cholesterol is being removed from the body or deposited in the tissues.3

Healthy cholesterol levels support good cardiovascular health. Although high levels should be avoided, remember that some cholesterol is essential for many processes in the body including the production of hormones such as estrogen and testosterone and bile and vitamin D.2 Tips to maintain healthy cholesterol levels to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle:2

  • Eat a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables, and include foods that are high in fibre.
  • Choose lean meats and include fish in your diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Don’t smoke
  • Exercise regularly
  • Reduce or cease alcohol consumption

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Published December 2, 2014
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