What Is Borderline Cholesterol?

Has your doctor told you that you have "borderline" high cholesterol? That means your cholesterol level is above normal, but not quite in the "high" range yet.

You have borderline high cholesterol if your total cholesterol is between 200 and 239 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

Your doctor will also consider other things, like how much of your total cholesterol is LDL ("bad") cholesterol and how much of it is HDL ("good") cholesterol.

Making simple changes in your lifestyle is often enough to bring borderline cholesterol levels down to the normal range. Some people may also need to take medicine for it. And keep in mind that other things, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and smoking, also affect your heart health; it's not just about cholesterol.

You won't know you have borderline cholesterol unless you get a cholesterol blood test. You should do that every 5 years.

The average American has a total cholesterol level of 200, which is in the borderline range.

You can turn it around before you get high cholesterol. Start with these six steps.

1. Make Changes in Your Kitchen.

Use your diet to help lower your LDL cholesterol and raise your HDL cholesterol.

For the biggest impact, choose foods that are low in saturated fats and trans fats and high in fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. Whole grains, beans, apples, pears, oatmeal, salmon, walnuts, and olive oil are excellent heart-healthy choices.

2. Read Food Labels.

You need to know how much saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol are in your favorite foods. That can help you make better choices.

Too much saturated fat can drive up your cholesterol level. It's found mostly in animal products. Cholesterol also is found in animal products. Your doctor or a dietitian can let you know what your daily limit should be.

Artificial trans fats can raise your LDL ("bad") cholesterol. They're in packaged foods, like some crackers, cookies, pastries, and microwave popcorn.

Check the nutrition label. And because products marked "0 grams" trans fats per serving can have up to a gram of trans fats, check the ingredients label, too. Anything marked "partially hydrogenated" is trans fat.


3. Get Moving.

Exercise helps you get your cholesterol down from the borderline range.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day. Taking a brisk walk, riding your bike, playing a team sport, or taking a group fitness class will increase your heart rate while raising HDL ("good") cholesterol.

4. Lose Extra Weight.

You can have borderline high cholesterol and be at a healthy weight. But if you're overweight, losing those extra pounds can help bring your cholesterol level back down.

Losing as little as 5% of your body weight can lower your cholesterol levels. One study found that adults who took part in a 12-week exercise program lowered their LDL by 18 points, and their total cholesterol dropped 26 points.

With a combination of weight loss and a healthy diet, it’s possible to lower LDL levels up to 30% -- results that are similar to taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.

5. Quit Smoking.

If you smoke, kicking the habit can help raise your HDL ("good") cholesterol up to 10%.

Have you tried to quit smoking before? For many people, it takes a couple of tries. Keep trying until it sticks. It's worth it, for your whole body's health.

6. Check to See What's Working.

During regular screening appointments, your doctor will check your cholesterol levels to see if the changes you’ve made have gotten you to your cholesterol goal.

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower borderline high cholesterol, your doctor may talk to you about medication.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on June 28, 2020



National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Lowering Your Cholesterol with TLC."

CDC: “Cholesterol Facts.”

Mayo Clinic: “Top 5 Lifestyle Choices to Reduce Cholesterol,” “Cholesterol: Top 5 Foods to Lower Your Numbers.”

American Heart Association: “Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Monitoring of High Cholesterol.”

Chai, S. The FASEB Journal, April 2011.

Alvarez-Suarez, J. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, March 2014.

FDA: "Talking About Trans Fat: What You Need to Know."

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