When understanding what your ideal cholesterol levels should be, it's important to take note of the fact that there are different types of cholesterol, and that the levels of these can have a significant impact on heart health. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that occurs naturally within the human body cells, and is transported through the blood. It is found in cell membranes. It performs a number of important functions in the body, including the formation of steroid hormones, bile acid, and vitamin D. When discussing cholesterol, there are generally four components that are referred to, Low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), High-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol, a higher number means lower risk of cardiovascular disease, as it helps remove LDL from blood), total cholesterol (HDL+LDL), and triglycerides (a type of fat or lipid present in blood). The levels of each individual component are taken into account, when discussing cholesterol ratio and the ideal cholesterol levels, details of which are described below.

Although elevated cholesterol levels are not considered to be a disease, they can have a direct impact on heart health and cardiovascular function. To some extent, what you eat contributes to your cholesterol levels, but it is mainly how your liver makes cholesterol that counts. You may refer to the following chart for standard ideal cholesterol levels.

Desirable and Undesirable Cholesterol Levels

HDL LevelCategory
Less than 40 mg/dLIncreased risk for heart disease
40-59 mg/dLHigher levels are better.
60 mg/dL and higherCan protect against heart disease
LDL LevelCategory
Less than 100 mg/dLOptimal
100-129 mg/dLNear/above optimal
130-159 mg/dLBorderline high
160-189 mg/dLHigh
190 mg/dL and aboveVery high
Total CholesterolCategory
Less than 200 mg/dLDesirable
200-239 mg/dLBorderline high
200-239 mg/dLHigh
Less than 150 mg/dLNormal
150 - 199 mg/dLBorderline high
200 - 499 mg/dLHigh
500 or higherVery high

Borderline or higher cholesterol levels indicate increased risk for heart disease. This is due to the tendency of LDL cholesterol to stick to the walls of blood vessels and arteries. This causes arterial blockage, which in turn, obstructs the blood flow. When an artery that leads to the heart or brain becomes blocked, it can lead to a serious condition like a heart attack or stroke. Studies indicate that a person with total cholesterol levels exceeding 240 mg/dl is twice as likely to develop and suffer from heart diseases than a person with lower or healthy levels. Typically, elevated cholesterol levels are seen more often in men than in women, and family history of high cholesterol further increases the likelihood of developing this condition. Family history, age, sex, and any preexisting medical conditions like diabetes play an important role in abnormal cholesterol levels. For instance, a 20 year old male, with a family history of heart disease and a borderline cholesterol level is at higher risk for heart disease than a 70 year old male, with high cholesterol, no family history or existing medical conditions.

Ideal cholesterol levels for women are within the same range as those for men. Though fewer women than men tend to develop high cholesterol levels, menopausal women face a higher risk, possibly because of hormonal changes that can increase LDL cholesterol and reduce HDL cholesterol levels at this time. Cholesterol checks are recommended at 5 year intervals after the age of twenty, but more frequently for men over 40 and women over 50.

For Diabetics

People who have diabetes are reportedly at twice the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, which is why maintaining cholesterol within the normal range is very important. Diabetes can lead to elevated levels of LDL and low levels of HDL, which in turn, contribute to an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Since the level of risk is significantly greater, for people who suffer from diabetes, targets for ideal cholesterol levels are lower for LDL and higher for HDL cholesterol. The following are ideal cholesterol levels for diabetics:

LDL Cholesterol - Below 100 mg/dl, preferably less than 70 mg/dl
HDL Cholesterol - Above 40 mg/dl, preferably more than 60 mg/dl
Triglycerides - Below 150 mg/dl

Cholesterol can be controlled with a few changes in lifestyle and diet. If you're a smoker, quitting smoking can help increase HDL levels, and reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease. In addition, eating foods low in cholesterol, as well as regular exercise and adequate rest can help significantly in attaining ideal cholesterol levels. Once you incorporate these habits into your daily routine, you will not only improve your overall health, but will also benefit by keeping diseases at bay. Eat healthy, increase activity, and lower stress - the key to a healthy life lies with you.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.