What Are the Normal Cholesterol Levels?
Cholesterol levels vary by age, weight, and gender. This means that all adults should have their cholesterol levels checked regularly, preferably every four to six years. Cholesterol is measured in three categories
- Total cholesterol
- LDL, or ‘bad cholesterol’
- HDL, or “good cholesterol”
For most people, balancing these levels can be a challenge. You need to keep total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol low, but high HDL cholesterol levels may offer some protection against heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes.
Cholesterol Levels And Age
Cholesterol levels increase with age. Doctors recommend taking steps early in life to avoid the development of dangerously high cholesterol levels as you age. If cholesterol levels remain uncontrolled for many years, they can be difficult to treat. Children are less likely to have high cholesterol and only need to have their levels checked once or twice before the age of 18. However, if a child has risk factors for high cholesterol, he or she will need to be tested more often. In general, men tend to have higher lifetime cholesterol levels than women. Cholesterol levels in men generally increase with age. However, women are not unaffected by high cholesterol. Women’s cholesterol tends to rise with menopause.
In the typical adult, healthy cholesterol levels do not vary much. Changes in recommended levels often depend on other conditions and health considerations.
Cholesterol Levels for Adults
- Total cholesterol levels for adults should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL); levels between 200 and 239 mg/dL are considered upper limits, and levels above 240 mg/dL are considered high.
- LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL; values between 100 and 129 mg/dL are acceptable for people without health problems but may be of greater concern for people with heart disease or risk factors for heart disease. 130 to 159 mg/dL is considered high, and 160 to 129 mg/dL is considered high. 189 mg/dL is considered high, and over 190 mg/dL is considered very high.
- HDL levels should be maintained at high levels, with values below 40 mg/dL considered a major risk factor for heart disease; values between 41 mg/dL and 59 mg/dL are considered the lower limit; optimal HDL levels are 60 mg/dL or higher.
Cholesterol Levels in Children
In contrast, the acceptable ranges for total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in children are different.
- The acceptable range for total cholesterol in children is less than 170 mg/dL. The acceptable range for total cholesterol in children is 170 to 199 mg/dL. A child’s total cholesterol level above 200 is too high.
- Children’s LDL cholesterol levels should also be lower than those of adults. The optimal LDL cholesterol level range for children is less than 110 mg/dL. The upper limit is 110 to 129 mg/dL and the lower limit is 130 mg/dL or more.
The best recommendation for children and adolescents to control their cholesterol levels is to lead a healthy, active lifestyle. This includes a healthy diet and adequate exercise. Children who are sedentary and overweight and eat processed foods are more likely to develop high cholesterol. Children with a family history of high cholesterol may also be at risk. In general, the earlier adults begin a healthy lifestyle, the better their cholesterol levels will be. Cholesterol levels can rise over time. Sudden lifestyle changes will eventually help, but the older you are, the less impact it will have on your cholesterol levels. All adults should stay active and maintain a regular exercise program. Postmenopausal women and adults with high cholesterol may want to consider taking medications to help lower cholesterol levels faster than diet alone. High cholesterol, regardless of age, can put you at risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. These risks will only increase over time, especially for adults who have not taken steps to reduce their cholesterol buildup.
See A Doctor
Children should see their doctor for a cholesterol check once or twice before they turn 18, but not during adolescence. Recommendations may change if the child comes from a family with heart disease, overweight or other health problems. Adults over the age of 20 should see a doctor every four to six years. For adults without health problems, this is usually enough. However, people should seek the help of their doctor for treatment and steps to lower their cholesterol.
- Cholesterol test results show high or close levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
- You are overweight or obese
- You have a family history of heart disease
There are a number of approaches people can use to lower their cholesterol and prevent it from rising. One possible approach is to use therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLC), which include diet, exercise, and weight control. Another option is cholesterol-lowering or cholesterol-absorbing medications. At any age, a diet low in saturated and trans fats and high in soluble fiber and protein is beneficial in reducing cholesterol buildup. The TLC diet is a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet. People on the TLC diet should not consume more than 7% of their daily calories from saturated fat and should not exceed 200 mg of dietary cholesterol. Fruits
- Whole grains
- Nonfat dairy products
- Skinned chicken
- Lean meats
The TLC diet also recommends consuming only enough calories to maintain an ideal body weight and avoid weight gain. Increasing the intake of soluble fiber and foods containing natural substances, such as certain margarines, may also increase the ability to lower LDL. A variety of books on the TLC diet are available online to help those interested in a cholesterol-lowering diet plan. Good weight management is al so an important part of lowering cholesterol and preventing cholesterol buildup. An overweight person who loses weight can help in the process of lowering their LDL levels. Weight loss is especially important for people with the following types of risk factors
- High triglyceride levels
- Low HDL
- People with a waist circumference of 40 inches or more
- Overweight women with a waist circumference of 35 inches or more
It is recommended that each person exercise regularly for about 30 minutes on most days. It also helps with weight control and can help lower cholesterol. If these measures are not enough, medication may be needed. There are different types of cholesterol-lowering medications, including
- Statins: These drugs prevent the liver from producing cholesterol.
- Bile acid sequestrants. These medications reduce the amount of fat absorbed from food.
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors. These drugs lower triglycerides in the blood and reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food.
- There are vitamins and supplements available online, such as niacin, that prevent the liver from eliminating HDL and lowering triglycerides.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. These acids increase HDL levels and lower triglycerides. There are many omega-3 fatty acids available online.
The best treatment for lowering cholesterol levels is through various lifestyle and dietary measures. Ultimately, the best way to lower bad cholesterol is to consult your doctor.