High cholesterol increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, and overall mortality.

Cholesterol levels in the blood are primarily due to diet and family history.


Total cholesterol < 200 for most individuals

Triglycerides < 160

HDL (good cholesterol)       < 45 in men or >50 in women

LDL (bad cholesterol) goal based on risk factors

       <160                     if 0-1 risk factor

                  <130                     if more than 1 risk factor

                  <100                     if known heart disease, stroke or diabetes

                  <70                       optional goal if heart/vascular disease and diabetes

Risk factors:  high blood pressure, smoking, age (men >45 years, or women >55), family history of early heart disease (father or brother with heart disease before age 55 or mother or sister with heart disease before age 65), or HDL < 40.

HDL “good” cholesterol helps carry cholesterol away from arteries and is protective against heart disease.  HDL cholesterol can be increased by exercise, quitting smoking, weight loss, and eating fish/taking fish oil tablets.

LDL “bad” cholesterol builds up in arteries forming hardened plaques that can clog up the arteries.  As the level of LDL cholesterol increases, the risk for heart disease also increases.  LDL cholesterol can be lowered by weight loss, exercise, quitting smoking, and following a balanced diet low in saturated fats.

Triglycerides are another bad type of cholesterol.  Triglycerides can be reduced by exercise, quitting smoking, weight loss, and limiting sugars/starches.

For more information, see