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Your Lower Cholesterol Toolbox

Get the tools you need to help lower cholesterol -- and reduce your risk of disease -- starting now.
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WebMD Feature

Achieving lower cholesterol is one of the best ways to protect yourself from heart attack and stroke. A fat-like substance found in the blood, cholesterol can build up and form deposits in your arteries. These cholesterol deposits can clog arteries -- or in some cases completely block -- the passage of blood and oxygen to the heart. The result, for hundreds of thousands of people every year, is chest pain, heart attack, or other cardiovascular problems.

There are two kinds of cholesterol: HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. HDL is often called the "good" kind of cholesterol because it helps remove unneeded cholesterol from the body. LDL is the "bad" cholesterol; it's made up primarily of fat and is a particular risk factor for heart disease.

So when you set out to lower cholesterol, you need to know your HDL number, your LDL number, and your total cholesterol number (which is not the total of your HDL and LDL cholesterol) too.

Total Cholesterol (mg/dL)

HDL (mg/dL)

LDL (mg/dL)

Best: Below 200

Men: 40-50

Best: Below 130

Borderline: 200-239

Women: 40-60

Borderline: 130-159

High risk: 240

High risk: Below 40

High: 160 or above

If any of your cholesterol numbers are in the high risk category, you're at an increased risk for heart disease -- which may lead to heart attack.

The good news is you have several options to help you get back in the cholesterol safety zone. These four options can all work separately -- or together -- to lower cholesterol, and keep it under control.

  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Medications

Diet to Lower Cholesterol

The body gets cholesterol in two ways: by making it and from food. Most of the cholesterol we eat comes from animal fats found in foods such as meat, butter, margarine, milk, and fish. One of the easiest ways to lower cholesterol is to lower your intake of certain kinds of fats.

Just as there is "good" cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol, there are "good" fats and "bad" fats. To keep your cholesterol low, your total dietary fat intake shouldn't be more than 25% to 35% of your diet -- and most of those fats should be the good kind, like vegetable fats (monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats), and omega-3 fatty acids, found mostly in fish.

To help lower LDL cholesterol, you'll want to avoid or reduce saturated fats (usually found in animal products like meats, eggs, and dairy), and trans fats, which are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil (think French fries and doughnuts).

"A quick way to tell the difference between animal fats and vegetable fats is that animal fats are usually solid at room temperature, while vegetable fats are liquid at room temperature," says Antonio Gotto, MD, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, in New York City.

So fill up on the healthy fats found in vegetable oils, nuts, avocados, and salmon, and cut back on higher-fat foods like red meat, whole milk, and of course, those tempting chips and pastries.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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

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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.

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