Five Frequently Asked Cholesterol Questions

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Pro
  • It's National Cholesterol Education Month, so let's cover some of the most frequently asked questions related to cholesterol.

    Question #1: What is cholesterol?

    Cholesterol is a "waxy" type of fat produced naturally by your body. It serves many functions, such as nerve protection, tissue production, and the production of certain hormones. Cholesterol is needed for proper bodily functions. It is a component of cell membranes everywhere in the body. However, when levels of LDL cholesterol are too high you are at increased risk for LDL oxidation which can lead to the development of arterial plaque and the narrowing of arteries.

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    Question #2: What should my cholesterol be?

    The American Heart Association recommends:

    Total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dl
    HDL cholesterol at least > 40 mg/dl, ideally > 60 mg/dl
    LDL cholesterol at least less than 130 mg/dl, ideally less than 100 mg/dl
    Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dl

    Question #3: What can I do to lower my cholesterol levels?

    Know your numbers - You need to know your LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels to determine appropriate actions. The most effective way to raise HDL is not necessarily the best way to lower LDL.

    Evaluate your lifestyle
    - Know risk factors you can change and those you cannot.

    Balance your fats - Reduce unhealthy saturated fats in your diet and replace them with heart healthy unsaturated fats.

    Be active - Physical activity lowers triglycerides and raises HDL (good) cholesterol.

    Eliminate trans fats
    - Trans fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower HDL (good) cholesterol, and raise triglycerides.

    Understand triglycerides
    - Triglycerides are impacted the most by your simple sugar and alcohol intake.


    Increase dietary fiber - You need 25-35 grams of dietary fiber daily, especially soluble fiber.

    Add omega 3 fatty acids
    - Omega 3 fatty acids are involved in the regulation of heart rate, blood pressure, and blood clotting.

    Question #4: If my HDL is high, do I need to worry about a high total cholesterol?

    Unfortunately, there are "good" and "bad" forms of HDL, just as there are "good" and "bad" forms of LDL cholesterol. The only way to know if your HDL or LDL particle sizes are healthy is with a comprehensive lipid panel. Typically, a high HDL is a "good thing", but it's best to follow up with a comprehensive lipid panel.


    Question #5: Should I take medication to lower cholesterol?

    These is a decision to be made between you are your physician. It is possible to lower cholesterol through diet and lifestyle changes and I recommend you discuss this option with your physician. If you are committed to making healthy changes you can see results within 4-6 weeks. However, work with your physician to determine the appropriate treatment plan for you.

    Be sure to sign up for the free e-course How to Lower Cholesterol in 8 Simple Steps provided by Health Central dietitian Lisa Nelson at

Published On: September 13, 2010