What is 'normal' cholesterol level? – A handy guide to understanding cholesterol

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is part of a class of indispensable substances present in your body. It is waxy and fat-like. Cholesterol is a component found all over your body, playing crucial vital roles. Our bodies can make cholesterol in the liver, or we can have cholesterol in our bodies by consuming foods that are rich in cholesterol, such as red-meats, dairy, butter etc.


Why is cholesterol dangerous?

If too much cholesterol accumulates in your blood, you have a higher risk of coronary artery disease and other cardiovascular diseases.

The levels of cholesterol in your body vary according to age, gender, and weight. A person’s body usually starts to produce more cholesterol as time progresses. All adults should monitor their cholesterol levels on a regular basis, ideally about every 4 to 6 years.


What is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol?

In order to be transported in the blood, cholesterol gets repackaged into lipoproteins. These lipoprotein complexes can be high or low in density, hence separated as low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or high-density lipoproteins (HDL).

LDL has been termed as ‘bad’ cholesterol, due to the fact that it tends to accumulate and form plaques in your blood vessels. HDL is termed as ‘good’ cholesterol, in fact, having high levels of HDL is considered beneficial, since it provides protection against heart diseases, including heart attacks and strokes.


How do you measure cholesterol levels?

In order to measure cholesterol levels, one must conduct a lipoprotein panel. Prior to having this test done, the individuals must fast (not eat or drink anything besides water) for 9-12 hours. This test measures your total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, non-HDL (such as very-low-density lipoprotein) and triglycerides.


What is considered ‘normal’ values for cholesterol?

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), these are the acceptable, borderline, and high measurements of cholesterol for adults.

All values are in mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter).


Total cholesterol

HDL cholesterol

LDL cholesterol



Less than 200

40 or higher

Less than 100

Less than 149







240 or higher


160 or higher

200 or higher



less than 40



What affects cholesterol levels and how can I lower the levels of cholesterol in my body?

  • Diet, first and foremost. If you consume high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, levels of blood cholesterol rise. Foods that contain high levels of cholesterol and saturated fats include red meat, dairy, chocolate, baked goods as well as any deep-fried or processed foods. In order to lower levels of cholesterol, one must adopt a healthy, balanced diet that attempts to eliminate saturated fats from the daily nutritional intake.
  • Weight, where excess weight is a major risk factor for heart disease. Being overweight or obese tends to increase your cholesterol. This is why losing weight can help lower your LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol as well as triglyceride levels. Losing weight and exercise also boosts HDL levels.
  • Physical activity, where lack of it is another risk factor for heart disease. Regular physical activity helps lower LDL and boosts HDL, while simultaneously helping you lose weight. One should aim to be physically active for at least 30 minutes on most if not all days of the week.
  • Smoking. Smoking cigarettes lower levels of HDL which helps remove bad cholesterol from your arteries. Quitting smoking is an important step toward lowering your cholesterol levels.
  • Stress. Chronic stress has been shown to sometimes raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol.
  • Drug Treatment. If lifestyle alterations are not having sufficient effects on your levels of cholesterol, then medicinal treatment might be necessary. Several types of cholesterol medicines are available, including statins. Speak to a doctor to find out which one may be the right one for you. Maintaining the lifestyle changes alongside the implementation of some form of drug treatment is crucial.

Factors that affect cholesterol levels outside of your control

  • Age and Gender. As we get older, cholesterol levels rise. Pre-menopausal women usually have lower total cholesterol than men of the same age. Menopausal and post-menopausal women usually have rising levels of LDL cholesterol.
  • Heredity. There is a genetic component that determines how much cholesterol your body makes. High levels of blood cholesterol may run in families.
  • Race. Certain races may be at greater risk for developing cholesterol-related conditions, for instance, African Americans have higher HDL and LDL levels than whites.






Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 7 Jan 2019
Medical Author: Dr. med.