Cholesterol levels vary by age, weight and sex. Over time, a person’s body tends to produce more cholesterol, which means all adults should check their cholesterol levels regularly, ideally every 4 to 6 years or so.
Cholesterol is measured in three categories:
– total cholesterol
– LDL, or “bad cholesterol”, and
– HDL, or “good cholesterol”.
The difficulty for most people is balancing these rates. While total and LDL cholesterol levels should be kept low, higher HDL cholesterol levels may offer some protection against heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes.
Cholesterol level and age
Cholesterol levels tend to increase with age. Doctors recommend taking steps earlier in life to prevent dangerously high levels of cholesterol from developing as a person ages. Years of unmanaged cholesterol can be a lot trickier to deal with. Children are the least likely to have high cholesterol levels and should only have their levels checked once or twice before the age of 18.
However, if the child has risk factors for high cholesterol, they should be monitored more frequently. In general, men tend to have higher cholesterol levels throughout their lives than women. A man’s cholesterol level generally increases with age. However, women are not immune to high cholesterol. A woman’s cholesterol often increases when she goes through menopause.
Recommended cholesterol levels
Healthy cholesterol levels don’t vary much in the typical adult. The variation in recommended rates tends to change due to other health conditions and considerations.
Cholesterol levels for adults
– A total cholesterol level below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is considered desirable for adults. A level between 200 and 239 mg/dL is considered borderline and a level of 240 mg/dL and above is considered high.
– The LDL cholesterol level must be less than 100 mg/dL. Levels of 100 to 129 mg/dL are acceptable for people without medical conditions, but may be of more concern for those with heart disease or risk factors for heart disease. A level of 130 to 159 mg/dL is borderline and a level of 160 to 189 mg/dL is high. A level of 190 mg/dL or more is considered very high.
– The HDL level must remain high. A level below 40 mg/dL is considered a major risk factor for heart disease. A level between 41 mg/dL and 59 mg/dL is considered the lower limit. The optimal HDL level is 60 mg/dL or higher.
Cholesterol levels for children
By comparison, the acceptable levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in children are different.
– An acceptable total cholesterol level for a child is below 170 mg/dL. A borderline acceptable total cholesterol level for a child is between 170 and 199 mg/dL. Any total cholesterol level over 200 in a child is too high.
– A child’s LDL cholesterol level should also be lower than that of an adult. The optimal LDL cholesterol range for a child is below 110 mg/dL. A borderline level is between 110 and 129 mg/dL, while a high level is above 130 mg/dL.
Tips for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels
The best recommendation for children and teens to control their cholesterol levels is to adopt a healthy and active lifestyle. This involves eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise. Sedentary, overweight children whose diets are high in processed foods are most likely to have high cholesterol. Children who have a family history of high cholesterol may also be at risk.
In general, the earlier an adult starts a healthy lifestyle, the higher their cholesterol level. Cholesterol builds up over time. A sudden lifestyle change may help, but the older a person is, the less of an impact their cholesterol levels will have. All adults should stay active and maintain a regular exercise routine. Postmenopausal women and adults with high cholesterol may consider taking medications that will help lower cholesterol more quickly than diet alone.
High cholesterol at any age puts you at risk for heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. These risks only increase over time, especially for adults who don’t take steps to reduce their cholesterol buildup.
Consultation of a doctor
Children should see a doctor for a cholesterol check once or twice before the age of 18, but not during puberty. If the child comes from a family that has a history of heart disease, is overweight, or has other health conditions, the recommendation may change.
Adults over 20 should see a doctor every 4-6 years. For adults without any health problems, this is usually enough. However, people should seek medical help for treatment and steps to lower cholesterol if:
– the results of a cholesterol test reveal high or near high total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels
– they are overweight
– they have a family history of heart disease.
How to lower your cholesterol level
There are methods to reduce cholesterol levels and prevent them from rising. One of them is therapeutic lifestyle changes, which include diet, exercise, and weight management. Another option is to use drug treatments that lower cholesterol levels or reduce cholesterol absorption.
At any age, diets low in saturated fat and trans fat and high in soluble fiber and protein are good for reducing cholesterol buildup.
The TLC diet is an eating plan that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. People who follow it should consume less than 7 percent of calories from saturated fat and less than 200 milligrams of dietary cholesterol daily. The TLC diet encourages people to eat the following foods:
low-fat or fat-free dairy products
Additionally, the TLC diet suggests eating only enough calories to maintain a desirable weight and avoid gaining weight. Increasing the consumption of soluble fiber and foods containing natural substances, such as certain margarines, can also enhance the lipid-lowering power of the diet.
Proper weight management is another key to lowering cholesterol and preventing its buildup. Overweight people who reduce their weight can help lower LDL levels in the process.
Weight loss is especially important for people who have a group of risk factors, including:
– a high level of triglycerides
– a low level of HDL
– overweight men
– overweight women
Regular physical activity for 30 minutes most days is recommended for everyone. It also helps manage weight, which helps lower cholesterol levels.
Certain vitamins and supplements, such as niacin, prevent the liver from eliminating HDL and reduce triglycerides.
Omega-3 fatty acids. These acids raise HDL levels and lower triglyceride levels.
The best treatment for lowering cholesterol involves a range of different methods, including lifestyle and diet.
High blood cholesterol: What you need to know. (2005, June)
LDL and HDL: “Bad” and “good” cholesterol. (2015, March 16)
Your guide to lowering cholesterol with TLC. (2005, December)