Low-density lipoprotein has a purpose, but too much LDL cholesterol in your body can raise your risk of heart disease and stroke. You can do a lot to bring your LDL level down if it’s too high, like eating the right foods and keeping your body moving.
LDL or low-density lipoprotein is a type of lipoprotein in your blood.
Lipoproteins are particles made of lipids (fats) and proteins that carry fats through your bloodstream. Because of their structure, fats can’t move through your blood on their own. So, lipoproteins serve as vehicles that carry fats to various cells in your body.
LDL particles contain a large amount of cholesterol and a smaller amount of proteins. Too much LDL can put you at a higher risk of a stroke or heart disease. You may hear people call LDL “the bad cholesterol.”
Most people use “LDL” and “LDL cholesterol” to mean the same thing. LDL cholesterol itself isn’t bad. That’s because cholesterol performs important functions in your body. But too much LDL cholesterol can cause issues.
LDL cholesterol has a reputation for being the “bad cholesterol.” This is because excess LDL cholesterol contributes to plaque buildup (atherosclerosis) in your arteries. This plaque buildup may lead to:
This is why healthcare providers encourage you to have a healthy level of LDL cholesterol.
Most adults should keep their LDL cholesterol below 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). If you have a history of atherosclerosis, your LDL should be below 70 mg/dL. Some people need even stricter management if they have a strong history of coronary artery disease.
Healthcare providers use the following categories to describe your LDL cholesterol level:
|Normal LDL||Near-Optimal LDL||Borderline High LDL||High LDL||Very High LDL|
|Below 100 mg/dL||100 - 129 mg/dL||130 - 159 mg/DL||160 - 189 mg/dL||190 mg/dL or higher|
|Below 100 mg/dL|
|100 - 129 mg/dL|
|Borderline High LDL|
|130 - 159 mg/DL|
An LDL level above 100 mg/dL raises your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Healthcare providers check your cholesterol levels through a simple blood test called a lipid panel. When you receive your results, it’s important to talk to your provider about what your cholesterol numbers mean. These include both your LDL and your HDL cholesterol. HDL is the “good cholesterol” that helps remove extra cholesterol from your blood.
Generally, healthcare providers encourage higher HDL cholesterol levels (ideally above 60) and lower LDL cholesterol levels to reduce your cardiovascular disease risk. If your LDL is too high and your HDL is too low, your provider may recommend lifestyle changes and/or medications to get your cholesterol numbers into the healthy range.
Many factors — some of which you can’t change — can raise your LDL level. Factors that affect your LDL include:
Foods that contain high amounts of saturated fat are the biggest culprits in raising your LDL cholesterol. Such foods include:
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There’s a lot you can do to lower your LDL cholesterol. For many people, starting with lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Here are some changes you can make:
Your healthcare provider may also prescribe medication to lower your LDL cholesterol.
Research shows that soluble fiber can lower your LDL cholesterol. This form of fiber (roughage) blocks the absorption of cholesterol in your body. You should aim to consume 10 to 25 grams (g) per day. Talk to your healthcare provider or a dietitian about the amount that’s right for you.
Adding beans and other veggies to meals can increase your soluble fiber intake. Talking to a dietitian can help you learn new and creative ways to incorporate these foods into your daily meals.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
You need some cholesterol for your body to function well. But too much LDL (“bad”) cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries and cause complications down the road. That’s why it’s important to work with your healthcare provider to keep your LDL levels in the normal range.
For many people, lifestyle changes can make a big difference. But if you make changes and your LDL is still high, you might feel frustrated or confused. Try not to blame yourself or feel disheartened. Many factors that affect your LDL (like age and heredity) are out of your control. Talk to your provider about the changes you’re making. Ask your provider if medication is the right fit for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/23/2023.
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