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What are Normal Cholesterol Levels?

KD Morgan
KD Morgan

The most significant factor in determining your risk of heart and cardiovascular disease is cholesterol. The liver synthesizes cholesterol into a product that can be found in most of the cells of the body. Deposits of plaque from this fatty substance can be found in the walls of the arteries and develop into “hardening of the arteries” or arteriosclerosis.

In order to know if you have normal cholesterol levels, you need to have a blood test or blood panel. Elevated cholesterol levels are also recognized in genetic diseases, liver and kidney disease, and hypothyroidism. High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL) are the three major kinds of cholesterol that need to be monitored. Total cholesterol and cholesterol/HDL ratio are also checked to make sure you are within normal cholesterol levels.

Unsaturated fats are better than saturated fats.
Unsaturated fats are better than saturated fats.

HDL, or good cholesterol, should range between 29 and 72, with an optimum range of 45 to 85. This form of cholesterol protects against heart disease and actually removes excess deposits from the arteries. Once collected, it transports it back to the liver to be excreted. Therefore, it is good to have high normal HDL levels.

Normal LDL, or bad cholesterol, ranges from 60 to 130. However, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute would ideally like to see the LDL count below 100, and lower in those who are at higher risk of heart disease. VLDL should also be kept as low as possible within the normal cholesterol levels. VLDL cholesterol range should be between 0 and 40, with an optimum of 0 to 30. Depending on your risk, your doctor will give you the guidelines, which are best suited for your body.

Cholesterol is measured by blood tests.
Cholesterol is measured by blood tests.

By adding up your HDL, LDL and VLDL cholesterol, you will get your total cholesterol count. Total cholesterol should always be below 200. For people with high cholesterol and consequently more at risk of heart disease, the optimal target is 160. Higher cholesterol plaque buildup corresponds to higher blood cholesterol levels.

Plaque buildup in the arteries that feed the heart can result in a heart attack, while arteries that feed the brain can result in a stroke. However, it is important to stay within the normal cholesterol levels because anxiety, depression, respiratory illness and stroke have been associated with low cholesterol levels below 160.

The cholesterol/HDL ratio is important to check because it measures the ratio between your dangerous and protective cholesterols. This ratio represents your overall risk for heart disease. Optimally, this ratio should be below 3.4.

Consuming too much saturated and trans fats can raise cholesterol levels.
Consuming too much saturated and trans fats can raise cholesterol levels.

Diet plays a critical role in maintaining normal cholesterol levels. While only 25% of your cholesterol is absorbed by your diet and your body manufactures 75% of, diet still plays a pivotal role in maintaining good blood chemistry and a healthy heart. Saturated fats and transfatty acids are major contributors to high total cholesterol and elevated LDL cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats help lower your total cholesterol, while monounsaturated fats not only lower total cholesterol but also increase your HDL cholesterol.

Discussion Comments


I am submitting my test report as under:

February 2013

Total Cholesterol 220

Triglycerides 164

HDL 35

LDL 152

Ratio (Total/HDL) 6.3

May 2013

Total Cholesterol 95

Triglyceride 63

HDL 32

LDL 50

Ratio (Total/HDL) 3

I have limited my diet and do exercise daily.

Please suggest whether this is optimal or not?


I know from experience that eating the right food drastically changes your HDL and LDL. The last blood test I had, I was told my LDL was fine, but the HDL was very low and therefore I was just as much in danger!

So I went home and looked up what I needed to eat. Oats came up continuously, so I started eating a bowl daily. This last blood test shows both HDL and LDL are perfect! I have a 170 overall cholesterol reading! Not bad. Now I have to try and get my uric acid down, so I'll have to lay off chicken and wine! Life is so cruel!


Dear Anon124236: To understand why your pathology report changed the reference range for cholesterol from 250 mg/dl down to 200 mg/dl, you need to know how these ranges are set.

Historically, all reference ranges for laboratory tests were set based upon statistics from normal (or healthy) individuals. These were set so that the ranges cover the central 95 percent of values from the reference range study.

Since our society generally has a diet too high in fat, our reference range was pretty high. In the mid-80's, there was recognition that high cholesterol was associated with risk of heart attacks. At that time, the reference range was changed from a "normal" range to a recommended range (thus the 250 mg/dl on your report). Since then, a group that studies risk has set guidelines for lipid levels. These guidelines are updated as new research data is available. The last implemented guidelines were the ATPIII guidelines. (ATPIV are currently in review.) These guidelines recommend that total cholesterol be maintained below 200 mg/dl. So you see, your pathologist has done exactly the right thing in lowering your expected range.

As for your question about pharmaceutical pressure, there is probably a little truth to that. However, it is more pressure to give you drugs instead of just changing your lifestyle.

Also, remember that total cholesterol is not the whole picture. You need to look at your HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, as well as other risk factors (see below). You HDL cholesterol should be above 60 mg/dL. Your LDL should be below 100 mg/dL (if you have a 10 year risk greater than 20 percent when considering other factors), below 130 (if you have 2+ risk factors and a 10 year risk less than or equal to 20 percent) or below 160 (if you have 0-1 other risk factors). Your doctor probably gets some pressure from insurance companies to keep your LDL below 100 mg/dL.

The risk factors considered when calculating risk are age, total cholesterol, whether you are a smoker, HDL, and blood pressure. If you find the National Cholesterol Education Program on the internet, you can take a look at the "ATPIII Guidelines At-A Glance Quick Desk Reference." The last page has the scoring criteria that your doctor should use when determining your risk and what your target LDL level should be. I hope this helped.


I did my first lipid profile test in Dec 2004 at the age of 26 years. Total cholesterol at that time was 209 and in the pathologist report the normal range was given to be within 130-250 mg/dl. At that time 209 was considered as normal by the pathologist and my doctor and i had no diet restrictions.

My second lipid profile test was done by me in Sep 2010 from the same pathologist. Now my total cholesterol came out to be 211 and the pathologist gave the normal range to be less than 200 mg/dl and now my pathologist and doctors find 211 unacceptable and advised me diet restrictions.

What is the reason for decreasing the upper limit of 250 to 200? Is it due to pressure from insurance companies or the earlier limit of 250 was based blindly?


@baileybear/@BelugaWhale - You both are very right about limiting your intake and eating foods that are just plain better for you. Some of those cholesterol reducing foods are: fatty fish, walnuts, and oatmeal. While they aren't the most glamorous foods out there, they will help you steadily decrease your levels and good cholesterol levels will soon come around.


@BelugaWhale - Aside from limiting saturated and trans fat-rich foods (like coconut oil), you can also eat certain foods to lower your cholesterol (Cheerios, anyone?) and it's great to always have food like that in your repertoire.


Heightened cholesterol levels can cause all sorts of problems later in life, especially if it's something you've been dealing with for years. Bad cholesterol levels foods include foods high in saturated and trans fats. LDL or bad cholesterol can be cut down or back by limiting these types of foods greatly.

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    • Unsaturated fats are better than saturated fats.
      By: chungking
      Unsaturated fats are better than saturated fats.
    • Cholesterol is measured by blood tests.
      By: Kasia Bialasiewicz
      Cholesterol is measured by blood tests.
    • Consuming too much saturated and trans fats can raise cholesterol levels.
      By: PhotoEd
      Consuming too much saturated and trans fats can raise cholesterol levels.
    • High levels of LDL cholesterol increase risk for hardening of the arteries or artery blockage.
      By: Alexandr Mitiuc
      High levels of LDL cholesterol increase risk for hardening of the arteries or artery blockage.
    • Low cholesterol has been linked to depression and other mental health issues.
      By: silent_47
      Low cholesterol has been linked to depression and other mental health issues.
    • Widely viewed as one of the healthiest types of cooking oil, canola oil is high in monounsaturated fats.
      By: branex
      Widely viewed as one of the healthiest types of cooking oil, canola oil is high in monounsaturated fats.