Skip to content

Cholesterol & Triglycerides Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Facts About Cholesterol


WebMD Feature

Is the cholesterol in egg yolks the "good" or "bad" kind? Can you "burn" cholesterol by exercising? Which has more cholesterol, a tablespoon of butter or a cup of peanut butter?

Most people know that fat is bad for them, but two-thirds of Americans are confused about how cholesterol differs from fats. The fat issue is actually the most clearly defined topic in nutrition. Yes, most Americans should cut the fat. They need to do it now and for the rest of their lives, for the sake of their hearts, health and waistlines.

Recommended Related to Cholesterol Management

Treatments for Advanced Atherosclerosis

Drugs are usually the first choice of treatment, even in the late stages of atherosclerosis. Sometimes, though, more aggressive treatment is needed. Narrowed arteries can frequently be reopened with one of two treatments: stenting or bypass surgery. Because these atherosclerosis treatments come with risks, they are typically reserved for emergencies or when medications fail.

Read the Treatments for Advanced Atherosclerosis article > >

Given that National Education Cholesterol Month is this September, stockpiling some cholesterol facts may be in line. Learning more will clear up the confusion and help you to dodge the fat in your diet.

The Facts about Cholesterol

Can You Burn Off Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of lipid, just as fats are. However, unlike fat, cholesterol can't be exercised off, sweated out or burned for energy. It is found only in animal products, including meat, chicken, fish, eggs, organ meats and high-fat dairy products.

Is Cholesterol Good or Bad?

Just as homemade oil-and-vinegar dressing separates into a watery pool with a fat-slick topping, so also would fats and cholesterol if they were dumped directly into the blood. To solve this dilemma, the body transports fat and cholesterol by coating them with a water-soluble "bubble" of protein. This protein-fat bubble is called a lipoprotein.

  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) carry cholesterol to the tissues. This is "bad" cholesterol, since high LDL levels are linked to increased risk for heart disease.
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDLs) carry excess cholesterol back to the liver, which processes and excretes the cholesterol. HDLs are "good" cholesterol; The more HDL you have, the lower your risk for developing heart disease.
  • HDLs and LDLs are found only in your blood, not in food.

Test Your Cholesterol

Your risk for heart disease can be assessed with a blood-cholesterol test. In this test, your total-cholesterol reading should approximate the sum of your LDL, HDL and other lipoproteins. If you have 3.5 mg of total cholesterol, or less, for every 1 mg of HDLs, then your cholesterol ratio is ideal. According to guidelines from the National Cholesterol Education Program:

  • Total cholesterol should remain below 200 mg/dl, unless HDL is high.
  • LDL should be lower than 130 mg/dl.
  • HDL should be 35 mg/dl or higher.
  • People under age 30 should shoot for an even lower total cholesterol of 180 mg/dl.
1 | 2 | 3

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Is Your Cholesterol Level Heart Healthy?
What is your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) level?

Get the latest Cholesterol Management newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
Desirable
0-199
Borderline
200-239
High
240+

Your level is currently

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

woman pulling supplements from shelf
Can they help lower yours?
bowl of yogurt with heart shape
What it can do for you.
 
woman exercising
14 practical tips.
chocolate glazed donut and avocado
What your levels mean.
 
Heart Foods Slideshow
Slideshow
Cholesterol Fact or Fiction
Quiz
 
Food & Fitness Planner
TOOL
Attractive salad
ARTICLE
 
Heart Disease Overview Slideshow
SLIDESHOW
worst sandwich slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
Fat Foods Fit Foods
SLIDESHOW
Bad Cholesterol
VIDEO
 

WebMD Special Sections