What are Healthy Cholesterol Levels?

This article tackles the recommended healthy cholesterol levels according to guidance from the NHS. For an explanation of ‘good’ cholesterol, see our article on HDL cholesterol here.

When we talk about heart health, we often hear about the importance of maintaining a healthy cholesterol level – but what does this mean in practice? What do health professionals consider a good cholesterol level to have, and how can we reach it? Our guide below is here to help.

Why do the recommended healthy cholesterol levels matter?

A fat-like substance made naturally by the body, cholesterol has an important part to play in the way all of our cells work.

However, the body can produce too much LDL-cholesterol – cholesterol carried in a low density lipoprotein, often thought of as “bad cholesterol” – which can eventually lead to a build up of cholesterol on the arterial walls. Raised LDL-cholesterol is one of the risk factors of coronary heart disease*.

So what is “good” cholesterol, then? HDL-cholesterol (cholesterol carried in a high density lipoprotein) is thought of as the “good kind”, as it can help to remove cholesterol from the blood and carry it away to the liver to be eliminated.

Distinguishing between these two types of cholesterol is important when considering questions like “What is a good cholesterol level to have?”, as a cholesterol test will not only share your total level, but also the amount of LDL- and HDL-cholesterol in your blood. While you want LDL-cholesterol to be under a certain level (see below), your HDL-cholesterol should ideally be 1mmol/L or above.

What is a healthy cholesterol level?

The recommended cholesterol level for you is dependent on whether or not you are considered to be at a higher risk of developing heart disease, which is affected by factors like gender, age, and family history. When you are tested by a healthcare professional, they will take these things into account when giving you recommendations ¬– the figures below are general guidelines given by the NHS.

So what actually are the recommended healthy cholesterol levels for both types?

The NHS recommends that total cholesterol is:

  • 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults;
  • 4mmol/L or less for those at high risk.

The recommended LDL-cholesterol level is:

  • 3mmol/L or less for healthy adults;
  • 2mmol/L or less for those at high risk.

As mentioned above, ideally HDL levels should be 1.2 mmol per litre or more.

The NHS estimates that around 50% of UK adults have total cholesterol above the recommended level.

Maintaining the recommended healthy cholesterol levels

Getting your cholesterol tested regularly is very important. NHS guidelines recommend that healthy adults should have their cholesterol levels checked every four to six years by a healthcare professional. However if you know your levels are high and are trying to reduce them, you may wish to be tested more regularly, and your GP will usually be able to help.

Once you know your cholesterol level, you can then discuss your next steps with a healthcare professional. There are a number of alterations that can be made to the diet and lifestyle to either lower an elevated or maintain a desirable cholesterol level ¬– something we cover thoroughly in our guide on how to lower cholesterol here on the site.

Changes don’t have to be huge to make a difference; small adjustments can often go a long way to helping you take care of your heart. And if you’d like a helping hand getting started, why not try our free 21-Day Challenge app? Each day, it will share three simple tasks and two tips you can try that day to help lower your cholesterol and maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s a great way to ease yourself into good habits!

*High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease, and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.

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