Our Review Process
Our articles undergo extensive medical review by board-certified practitioners to confirm that all factual inferences with respect to medical conditions, symptoms, treatments, and protocols are legitimate, canonical, and adhere to current guidelines and the latest discoveries. Read more.
Our Editorial Team
Shifa Fatima, MSc.
Dr. Apoorva T, MHM.
Serum Cholesterol: Understanding Your Levels
Cholesterol is an essential and healthy fat required by our body to perform certain functions, but excess of it can open doors to cardiovascular diseases and other health problems. If you want to comfortably lead a healthy life, you should routinely get your cholesterol levels checked to identify any alarming situation at the nascent stage. To help you keep your cholesterol levels in check, we have curated this exhaustive guide containing all significant information about cholesterol. So ensure you read until the end.
Table of Contents
What is a Serum Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a naturally produced fatty substance in the liver with a wax-like texture. Once created, it enters the bloodstream to reach different body parts. The term ‘serum cholesterol’ refers to cholesterol levels found in the blood. Since it is an essential body fat, it must be present in the body to facilitate particular functions, like metabolizing Vitamin D in the skin, building cellular membranes, producing bile acids for easily digesting fatty foods, making hormones, etc. People with a normal serum cholesterol level don’t face any intense health problems. But when cholesterol levels exceed healthy levels, you can become vulnerable to numerous health diseases.
Serum Cholesterol Levels
To get an accurate picture of your body’s cholesterol levels, a test is recommended to measure HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol), triglycerides, and total cholesterol. The serum cholesterol levels are measured in mg/dL (milligrams per decilitre). If you have already taken the test and are awaiting the test results, being aware of healthy cholesterol levels can help you better understand the results.
If you are 19 years or younger, your triglyceride levels should be less than 150 mg/dL, and your total cholesterol should not exceed 170 mg/dL. Males and females aged 20 and above should have a total serum cholesterol level between 125 mg/dL to 200 mg/dL, wherein triglyceride levels should be less than 150 mg/dL. HDL and LDL are the primary cholesterol components, so you must also keep them within healthy levels.
Serum HDL Cholesterol
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol absorbs the cholesterol present in the bloodstream and carries it back to the liver. High levels of HDL are good for you because it lowers the risk of heart diseases. The normal level of serum cholesterol for people aged 19 and below is at least 45 mg/dL. Females aged 20 and above should have a minimum HDL level of 50 mg/dL. For males, a healthy HDL cholesterol level is at least 40 mg/dL.
Serum LDL Cholesterol
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol makes up a significant portion of your serum cholesterol. Higher LDL levels are unhealthy for your body because they increase the potential risk of heart disease and stroke. Healthy serum LDL cholesterol levels are always less than 100 mg/dL. If the limit exceeds by a significant number, you should consult a doctor.
Now that you’re aware of healthy cholesterol levels, do remember that doctors consider numerous factors while evaluating a person’s cholesterol level. Smoking, the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol, diet, age, family history, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes are some factors that are taken into account while evaluating a person’s cholesterol levels.
What Should Your Normal Serum Cholesterol Levels Be?
Your normal serum cholesterol level should be less than 200 mg/dL. The healthy triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dL, and LDL levels should be less than 130 mg/dL. Since HDL is good cholesterol, the normal serum HDL cholesterol should always be more than 45 mg/dL for men and higher than 55 mg/dL for women.
What is a Serum Cholesterol Test?
A serum cholesterol test is a test that helps accurately measure the cholesterol levels in the blood. The cholesterol levels can easily be measured using a blood test called a lipid panel test or lipid profile test. This test can accurately help you determine your risk of build-up of plaques (fatty deposits) in arteries that can lead to blocked arteries or narrowed arteries. High cholesterol levels are a significant risk of coronary artery disease, so ensure you don’t ignore your cholesterol levels. A serum cholesterol test would accurately measure your total cholesterol, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
According to the esteemed National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the first cholesterol screening of a person should be done between the ages 9 to 11, and then the test should be conducted every five years. The serum cholesterol test can be recommended every one to two years for women between 55 to 65 years and men between 45 to 65 years. These serum cholesterol test durations are for healthy adults. If you have any underlying health problem, the doctor may ask you to take frequent serum cholesterol level tests.
How to Control Serum Cholesterol?
If you want to control serum total cholesterol, you must make efforts to reduce LDL cholesterol levels and increase HDL cholesterol levels. Let’s explore how it can be achieved.
Increasing HDL Cholesterol Levels
Since HDL is considered good cholesterol, it should be maintained at high levels. Some practical and effective ways to improve your HDL levels include the following:
- Replacing regular meat with quality plant-based protein sources like quinoa and tofu.
- Get regular exercise for an extended period.
- Use oils low in trans fat, like canola oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, etc.
- Drink low-fat milk or entirely replace milk with a dairy-free alternative.
- Eat more whole grains, vegetables, and whole fruits.
- Increase the intake of dietary fiber.
- Eat more skin-friendly poultry items and fish like herring, salmon, mackerel, and trout.
These are natural ways to control and bring your HDL to healthy levels. Some people may require medication, so it is best to get checked by a doctor if you have low HDL levels.
Reduce LDL Cholesterol Levels
Our body produces enough cholesterol needed to carry numerous health functions. Any cholesterol obtained through food consumption is extra, and too much of it can lead to various health problems. Adopting a healthy diet is the best way to control LDL and bring it to healthy levels. Your saturated fat and trans fat consumption should not be above 6% of your daily calorie intake. For example, if you are consuming 2,000 calories a day, your daily cholesterol intake should not be more than 11 grams to 13 grams of saturated fat. Some healthy and natural ways to control your LDL cholesterol levels include the following:
- Avoid any sugary drinks and food items, like sodas, chocolate bars, pre-made smoothies, packaged juices, candy, etc.
- Addressing related health conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Eat fewer full-fat dairy products like cheese, butter, cream, whole milk, etc.
- Avoid heavily processed food items.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat fewer refined carbohydrates like pastries, chips, bread, etc.
- Quit smoking.
- Eat less red meat, poultry with skin, pork, and lamb.
- Limit oil consumption high in trans fat.
- Reduce or stop alcohol consumption.
Following all these can help you bring your cholesterol to healthy levels. But you should collectively follow these tips for an extended period to notice visible results.
How to Treat High Serum Cholesterol?
If your serum cholesterol test highlights high levels of serum cholesterol, you should get it treated to prevent any developing risk of cardiovascular diseases. Doctors recommend healthy lifestyle changes like regular exercise and a healthy diet to normalize your cholesterol levels. Doctors can also recommend medications combined with healthy lifestyle changes for better and faster results.
While the choice of medicine is made on numerous factors, the common options include statins, bempedoic acid, cholesterol absorption inhibitors, bile-acid-binding resins, and PCSK9 inhibitors. If your triglyceride levels are really high, you may be recommended omega-3 fatty acid supplements, fibrates, and niacin. We recommend people avoid self-medication. If your test shows high cholesterol levels, we recommend a proper doctor’s consultation for the right treatment.
Serum Cholesterol – Risk Factors
The best way to prevent serum LDL cholesterol level, HDL levels, and triglycerides level from exceeding normal levels is by being aware of their causative factors. If you work on the controllable risk factors responsible for high cholesterol, you can reduce your chances of getting high cholesterol and its associated diseases. So let’s quickly explore the common risk factors of high serum cholesterol shared below:
1) High Blood Pressure
Although high blood pressure is not directly responsible for high blood cholesterol, it mostly shows up in people with it. It is because both have the same risk factors, like obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, aging, and an unhealthy diet. Both conditions are major risk factors for heart diseases, causing most deaths from high cholesterol.
If you regularly take a diet high in sugar, trans fat, and saturated fat, your LDL cholesterol levels might disproportionately increase. You should avoid consuming food items high in cholesterol and other unhealthy fats.
3) Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes can significantly lower good (HDL) cholesterol and increase triglycerides. If you have a poor diet and exercise isn’t a part of your daily routine, you may develop Type 2 diabetes, which eventually gives rise to high cholesterol levels.
Being obese or overweight will increase your bad cholesterol levels, and your good cholesterol levels might decrease. If you are obese and your high blood pressure keeps increasing, you must pay attention to your health.
If you smoke frequently, it can damage your blood vessels, and more fatty deposits can accumulate over a period. Smoking can lower your good cholesterol levels, making you more vulnerable to heart diseases.
6) Less Physical Activity
Regular exercise or increased physical activities can significantly lower your bad cholesterol levels and boost your good cholesterol levels. It can also help you reduce extra weight, making it easier to consistently maintain a healthy weight.
These are some controllable risk factors that you can change and reduce your risk of developing high cholesterol levels. There are also some uncontrollable risk factors, like family history, age, and gender. Generally, people with a family history of high cholesterol have a higher chance of developing the same. The case is similar for older people and women with menopause.
Maintain Healthy Serum Cholesterol Levels for a Healthy Living
Cholesterol is vital for your body, but ensure you don’t let excess amounts build-up to prevent potential health problems. Adults should get their serum cholesterol levels checked, as recommended by their doctors, to be aware of the accurate levels of HDL, LDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol. A healthy adult can get their cholesterol checked every four years, but people with related health concerns like high blood pressure should get their cholesterol checked more frequently.
The more you keep your serum cholesterol in check, the better you can maintain your overall well being. If you want to follow the natural way of improving your cholesterol levels, start exercising regularly and eating healthy meals. But some people can also be recommended to take medication to improve their cholesterol levels. If you are trying to efficiently bring your cholesterol levels to healthy levels, we recommend consulting a doctor for the best treatment and faster results.
What Happens if Serum Cholesterol is High?
If serum cholesterol is high, a huge amount of fatty deposits can accumulate in your blood vessels. With time, these deposits can grow, making it challenging for blood to flow smoothly through your arteries. In some cases, these fatty deposits can suddenly break, forming a clot that can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
What are The Top 5 Signs of High Cholesterol?
Chest pain, stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, and circulatory ailments are some common signs of high cholesterol. If you notice/experience any of these signs, immediately consult a doctor to seek the relevant course of treatment. While high cholesterol symptoms are not easily noticeable in the developing stage, it is always good to keep getting regular full-body check-ups to identify any abnormalities in cholesterol levels at the earliest possible stage.
What Happens if Serum Cholesterol is High?
When serum cholesterol exceeds healthy levels, it increases your risk of developing strokes, heart attacks, and other health problems. Excess cholesterol levels lead to plaque accumulation in arteries, leading to the development of atherosclerosis. To maintain a healthy body and overall wellbeing, your HDL levels should be high, and LDL levels should be low.
Does Exercise Lower Cholesterol?
Yes, exercise can lower cholesterol levels. When you exercise regularly, your HDL or good cholesterol levels start increasing. LDL or bad cholesterol levels are lowered, and it can also help lose weight. For those who aren’t aware, obesity or being overweight also leads to increased cholesterol levels, so losing weight by exercising can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
This website's content is provided only for educational reasons and is not meant to be a replacement for professional medical advice. Due to individual differences, the reader should contact their physician to decide whether the material is applicable to their case.