Everything You Should Know About Your Cholesterol Levels

Aditi Shenai

December 2, 2022

Millions of people worldwide suffer from cholesterol issues. Out of them, a large percentage is not even aware of their condition. It is due to a lack of knowledge about the subject and the absence of testing.

The onset of modern technologies and advancements in the healthcare sector has promoted the concept of “prevention is better than cure”. It has become essential to be aware of potential harms and issues that may cause discomfort-like symptoms in the early stages. Going after the cure is not required if you avoid your problems with thorough screening and preventive actions well in advance.

One of the most common practices that people above 45 should follow is regular cholesterol level measurement. Most people in that age group resort to a more laid back lifestyle that involves long sitting hours. It hampers their metabolism and cholesterol balance. Also, people with a family history of cholesterol issues should have it checked as they are more prone to cholesterol-related problems.

What are safe Cholesterol Levels?

Safe cholesterol levels of an individual may vary from person to person depending on their age, gender, family history, medical issues, allergies and other conditions that may affect the same. But for a normal male adult, the numbers should be below 200mg/dL for total cholesterol, around 80 to 100mg/dL for LDL cholesterol and around 40 to 60mg/dL for HDL cholesterol. As for female adults, the numbers should be below 200mg/dL for total cholesterol, around 80 to 100mg/dL for LDL cholesterol and around 50 to 70mg/dL for HDL cholesterol.

The female sex hormone, oestrogen, is responsible for a more significant requirement of HDL cholesterol in women. Studies have found that oestrogen is a cause of high HDL levels in females. Thus during menopause, many females experience cholesterol issues due to the diminishing oestrogen levels.

Components and Irregularity In Cholesterol Levels

1. HDL Cholesterol

You may also know HDL cholesterol as the “Good Cholesterol”. That is because your body requires HDL to get rid of the “Bad Cholesterol (LDL)”. The liver can produce a sufficient amount of HDL in your body. Additionally, you can also acquire it from the food you eat.

Some people have low HDL levels, whereas others have high HDL levels for various reasons. Genetics has the most critical role in determining the quantity of HDL cholesterol your body produces and the percentage of different subtypes. In addition, lifestyle choices impact HDL levels. For example, smoking, obesity, and not getting enough exercise negatively affect it. A high-refined carbohydrate diet has the same effect. In contrast, medication such as beta-blockers, anabolic steroids, progestins, and benzodiazepines can lower HDL levels.

If your HDL is lower than the required levels, it may hamper your body’s performance. That is because it will directly lead to growth in the bad cholesterol as your body cannot get rid of it. Although having a moderately higher than average HDL level is not an issue, if your HDL levels are constantly low, the risks of congestion, artery blockage, heart attacks, and strokes increase over time.

Symptoms of having low HDL cholesterol are not only physical. Instead, they can also affect your mental health. For example, confusion, nervousness, the inability of decision making and agitation can all be potential signs of low HDL levels.

2. LDL Cholesterol

You may also know LDL cholesterol as the “Bad Cholesterol”. Although our bodies need it to make vitamins, hormones and other cells, if available in excess, it can hamper the optimum working of your blood vessels. Excess LDL cholesterol in your blood flow makes it stick to the inside walls of your arteries that carry blood to your heart, making them tighter and inefficient.

Like HDL levels, LDL levels can also vary from person to person for the exact causes like lifestyle habits, eating habits, family genetics, cholesterol history, and medications. But you must note that high LDL cholesterol symptoms aren’t as common or significant compared to low HDL levels. It causes cholesterol problems to stay hidden for an extended period causing them to become severe in the long run. Thus testing for cholesterol levels becomes increasingly important in cases relating to high cholesterol levels.

Very high LDL levels can be fatal and lead to chest pain, heart attack, strokes, and other lethal problems.

3. Triglycerides Levels

Triglycerides are a fat type that makes up most of the fat in your body. They originate from the foods you eat, particularly butter, oils, and other fats. Extra calories are also a source of triglycerides. These are calories you consume even when your body does not require them immediately. These excess calories convert into triglycerides and are stored in fat cells by your body. They release when your body needs energy. Triglycerides carry to your tissues via VLDL cholesterol particles.

The average triglyceride level for a typical adult should be 120 to 150mg/dL.

A cholesterol test would generally detect high triglycerides levels. The test is known as a lipid panel or lipid profile. However, your healthcare professional would ask you to fast before blood sample collection.

Causes and Symptoms of High and Low HDL Levels

There are various causes of high and low HDL levels.

High HDL Levels

High HDL levels have primary and secondary causes. The primary causes include single or multiple genetic mutations. These lead to overproduction or decreased HDL levels. On the other hand, secondary causes are as follows:

  • Chronic alcohol use disorder without cirrhosis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Drugs like corticosteroids, insulin, phenytoin, and estrogen

Why are High HDL Levels Harmful?

High HDL levels disturb the clearance of LDL cholesterol from the arteries. It, in turn, leads to the formation of clumps or plaques that obstruct the blood flow. If any plaques break down, they might form clots to cause a heart attack or stroke. 

Low HDL Levels

The causes of low HDL levels are smoking, carrying heavy weights, and lack of any physical activity. In addition, when your diet is rich in refined carbohydrates like white bread and sugars, you might also suffer from it. Certain medications like beta-blockers, anabolic steroids, progestins, and benzodiazepines are responsible for low HDL levels.

Symptoms of low HDL levels include

  • Premature coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Peripheral polyneuropathy

Causes and Symptoms of High and Low LDL Levels

High LDL Levels

Numerous factors could be behind high LDL levels. The most common ones are genetic causes which happen if there is a family history of elevated LDL. Other factors are obesity, lack of any physical activity, and a diet rich in saturated fats. These include lard and cream, beef and beef fat, and lamb and pork. Finally, high LDL levels might also occur due to a reaction caused by any medications you’re taking.

Why are High LDL Levels Harmful?

LDL is responsible for producing a waxy, fat-like substance in your arteries. When these LDL levels exceed beyond the required quantities, it can cause atherosclerosis, a condition that hardens the arteries. As a result, it can further lead to coronary artery disease (CAD), heart attack, and stroke. 

Low LDL Levels

There are no specific causes of low LDL levels. It is not an alarming cause of concern if you have low LDL levels. It is essential for reducing plaque size. However, it might also lead to specific side effects that are serious and unavoidable. Evidence suggests low LDL levels cause interference with normal cellular functions in organs with higher lipid concentrations like the brain and reproductive organs. 

How to Check Your Cholesterol Levels?

The best way to get tested is to visit a clinic or a hospital with a blood testing laboratory or to ask for a home collection and give a sample of blood for a Lipid Profile test. It helps measure your body’s cholesterol levels.

Generally, you must fast for nine to twelve hours before the test, ingesting no food or beverages other than water. Although specific cholesterol tests don’t need a fast, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor ahead of time. Typically, such tests are arranged in the morning to make the patient’s fasting procedure as simple as possible.


Millions of people throughout the world are currently suffering from cholesterol issues. Most of them aren’t even aware of the seriousness of their situation, let alone that it exists. It is past time that we became aware of potentially hazardous conditions that might have significant, if not lethal, long-term implications. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes a proper diet and moderate physical activity to prevent cholesterol and other problems is necessary. 

More awareness should be spread among the general public about cholesterol and related issues, along with strides made in the testing department to make sure no undetected cases pass by without resolution or proper care. The healthcare bodies are taking steps to promote testing. Still, it will help if you make a personal effort to take care of yourself and others around you to ensure that no one is suffering from cholesterol related issues without proper treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What cholesterol level is too high?

A. A borderline high level of total cholesterol is 170–199 mg/dl, while a 200 mg/dl measurement or more is considered high. LDL cholesterol should be less than 110 mg/dl. The borderline high range is 110–129 mg/dl, and anything beyond 130 mg/dl is considered high. 

Q. What if both HDL and LDL are high?

A. Extremely high HDL levels may impede the removal of LDL cholesterol from your arteries. When LDL cholesterol accumulates in blood arteries, it creates clumps known as plaques. They are responsible for delayed or obstructed blood flow and can lead to cardiovascular issues. 

Q. What is an alarming level of triglycerides?

A. Levels between 151-200 mg/dL is borderline high. At the same time, levels above 200 mg/dL are associated with an increased heart attack and stroke risk. In addition, fasting TG levels above 500mg/dL increase the risk of pancreatitis, a dangerous illness. 

Q. What should my cholesterol be at the age of 60?

A. At the age of 60, the numbers should be around 100 to 220mg/dL for total cholesterol, 60 to 120mg/dL for LDL cholesterol and 30 to 60mg/dL for HDL cholesterol. Although the numbers may vary according to the person’s gender and other issues which may impact cholesterol. Hence, you should follow a doctor’s advice regarding cholesterol issues at 60. 

Q. What foods increase LDL?

A. Foods that contain processed and trans fat are awful for your cholesterol. They can cause a sudden rise in LDL levels after consuming such foods. On the other hand, foods rich in fibre and  Omega-3 fatty acids lower it. 

Q. What is the fastest way to reduce VLDL cholesterol?

A. There is no particular way of reducing VLDL cholesterol levels in a few seconds. However, you can boost your metabolism through workouts that can help bring the cholesterol levels in to control.

About the Author

M.Sc in: Dietetics and Applied Nutrition from Manipal University. Worked: All over India and have been involved in helping set up nutrition departments in start ups. Interested in lifestyle based nutrition. Mantra: A healthy lifestyle isn't a choice to be made or discarded, it's a way of life!

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