Everyone has good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol. These fatty substances occur naturally in your body, but can also come from the foods you eat.
Some level of LDL cholesterol is fine, but too much can increase your chances of developing all sorts of health problems.
In this article, you’ll learn the difference between the types of cholesterol, why cholesterol can be harmful, what the ideal ranges are for LDL cholesterol, and how to lower your cholesterol naturally and with medication.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is a fatty, wax-like substance that can be found throughout the body. Your liver naturally makes cholesterol to help move proteins through your blood and to all of your tissues.
However, cholesterol can also be found in food. Too much of certain types of cholesterol can affect your health.
LDL cholesterol is generally referred to as “bad cholesterol.” It is made up of a combination of fats and proteins that can easily accumulate in the blood vessels.
If you develop too much cholesterol in your blood vessels, it can make it difficult for blood to pass through the vessels to different parts of your body. Blood vessels that are narrowed by cholesterol can make your heart need to work harder to pump blood.
Dangerous plaques can also form. If pieces of these plaques break off, they can cause problems like a heart attack or stroke.
Not all cholesterol is considered “bad.”
High-density lipoproteins, or HDL cholesterol, are often called “good” cholesterol.
While LDL cholesterol can easily build up in your blood vessels, which can lead to coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis, HDL cholesterol helps transport LDL to the liver, where it is eventually removed from the body.
According to clinical guidelines, most people should aim for LDL cholesterol levels
The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend LDL levels
However, they are all unique. A healthcare professional can make recommendations for you based on your individual health and cardiovascular risk factors.
Depending on your test results, a doctor may suggest any diet, lifestyle changes, or medications if needed.
Cholesterol is tested by taking a blood sample in a laboratory or doctor’s office.
A cholesterol test, or lipid panel, can be done with or without fasting. If your doctor orders a fasting test, you’ll need to avoid eating or drinking anything other than water for about 12 hours beforehand.
According to the National Library of Medicine, your first cholesterol test is usually done when you’re between 9 and 11 years old. If you have a family history of high cholesterol or heart conditions, you may be tested at age 2.
Testing is recommended every 5 years after the initial test. After age 45 for men and age 55 for women, cholesterol tests should be increased every 1 to 2 years.
Many things can affect your LDL cholesterol levels. Some things that contribute to higher LDL levels include:
- eating foods high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat
- inactivity or low levels of exercise
- obesity or overweight
- Smoking cigarettes
- a family history (also known as genetics)
- certain underlying medical conditions
- certain medications
- the race
While you can’t control all of these risk factors, your doctor can make recommendations that focus on the ones you can, such as diet and lifestyle changes.
A heart-healthy diet, exercise, and weight loss are the most common lifestyle recommendations to lower cholesterol levels. They are usually recommended first if your cholesterol levels are elevated or moving in that direction.
LDL levels that are considered high or extremely high are treated with medication. Often, a doctor may recommend a combination of changes in medication, diet, and exercise for someone with high LDL levels.
Medical cholesterol management aims to lower LDL levels by
Medications that can be used to lower LDL cholesterol levels include:
Some people may also be prescribed omega-3 fatty acid ethyl esters such as Lovaza, Vascepa, Epanova, or Omtryg. However, these are typically used for people with high triglyceride levels and
It can take 3 to 6 months for LDL cholesterol levels to drop with changes in diet and exercise alone. Medications usually work faster, though it will depend on the type you use and whether you also combine it with recommended lifestyle changes.
You may see your LDL cholesterol drop in as little as 6 to 8 weeks with some medications.
What is the ideal range for LDL cholesterol?
For most people, the ideal range for LDL cholesterol is less than 100 mg/dL.
Is there a target LDL level for people with diabetes?
People with diabetes and other conditions that can increase their chances of developing cardiovascular disease should aim for an LDL cholesterol level of less than 70 mg/dL.
How fast can you lower your LDL levels?
It may take about 2 months with medication or up to 6 months with lifestyle changes to see a drop in your LDL levels. Contact a doctor to discuss the best treatment options for your individual health and LDL levels.
LDL cholesterol is the type of cholesterol that is considered “bad” because it can block arteries and cause plaque to form. Having high LDL cholesterol can increase your risk of stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular diseases.
The recommendation for most people is to keep cholesterol levels below 100 mg/dL, which can be achieved with a balanced diet and exercise. If you have conditions that can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, experts recommend keeping your LDL levels below 70 mg/dL.