Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is the most common type of cholesterol found in your blood. Each LDL particle is made up of a lipoprotein coat and a cholesterol center.
Although it’s often known as the “bad” cholesterol, LDL cholesterol isn’t inherently unhealthy. Your body needs LDL cholesterol to protect nerves and produce cells and hormones.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is the other type of cholesterol, and is often called “good” cholesterol. Both LDL and HDL cholesterol are produced in the liver.
Testing for high cholesterol overall, however, is recommended by the AHA. Since cholesterol isn’t something that causes symptoms until a person develops heart disease or other complications, it’s important to get tested regularly via a blood test (also known as a lipid panel). Ask your physician or primary care provider on your next visit.
LDL Cholesterol Facts
How to Lower LDL Cholesterol
Adopting healthy lifestyle habits is the first protection against high LDL cholesterol. If changing lifestyle habits alone isn’t enough, your doctor may also prescribe cholesterol-lowering medication.
Avoid a diet high in saturated and trans fats. A diet high in saturated fats — found in animal products, including full-fat dairy, as well as many processed foods — can raise your LDL and total cholesterol.
Trans fats — sometimes found in fast food and many commercially baked breads, cookies, cakes, chips, crackers, and snack foods — can also raise your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol.
Instead, the AHA recommends a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, nuts, and nontropical vegetable oils.
Exercise has two effects on cholesterol: It raises levels of your body's HDL cholesterol, and it also increases the size of LDL particles, which makes them less likely to form plaque on coronary artery walls.
Keep blood sugar levels in check. For people with diabetes or prediabetes, it’s important to monitor your blood sugar as well. High blood sugar levels can raise LDL cholesterol, as well as lower HDL cholesterol and weaken the lining of arteries.
Keep your weight in a healthy range. Having a BMI of 30 or greater typically correlates with a higher risk of abnormal LDL and total cholesterol levels.
Watch your waistline. Beyond weight, abdominal fat and waist circumference can increase your risk of high cholesterol.
Quit tobacco. Although the habit can be hard to kick, quitting tobacco use can help prevent high cholesterol. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
Tobacco smoke causes damage to the walls of your blood vessels, making it easier for plaque to build up in them. Smoking also lowers HDL cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs. Depending on your family history, genetic risk factors, or lifestyle, sometimes healthy habits alone aren’t enough to lower LDL cholesterol.
If you and your doctor find that your numbers aren’t budging, medication may help manage your high cholesterol.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- High Cholesterol Diagnosis.?Mayo Clinic. July 20, 2021.
- LDL and HDL: "Bad" and "Good" Cholesterol.?Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 31, 2020.
- High Cholesterol Facts.?Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 8, 2020.
- Good vs. Bad Cholesterol.?American Heart Association. November 6, 2020.
- Thanassoulis G. Screening for Lipoprotein(a): The Time Is Now. Circulation. March 18, 2019.
- Cholesterol Numbers: What Do They Mean? Cleveland Clinic. January 31, 2020.
- Prevention and Treatment of High Cholesterol. American Heart Association. November 11, 2020.
- American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. American Heart Association. April 18, 2018.
- Familial Hypercholesterolemia 101.?Family Heart Foundation.