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Why Keeping Healthy Cholesterol Levels Is Crucial

Last updated January 2, 2024.

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With the Everlywell home Cholesterol and Lipids Test, you can easily check 4 different markers in your body that help predict heart disease risk: direct LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, direct total cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Together, these markers make up your cholesterol and lipid profile. Let’s find out why these things are important for a healthy heart!

Cholesterol Levels, Lipids, and Heart Health

Lipids are fatty, oily compounds that are found in your bloodstream and in your body’s cells. Lipids can come directly from or be created from the food you eat. Cholesterol and triglycerides are both made out of lipids.

High levels of cholesterol and triglyceride can put you at a greater risk of heart disease – and make it more likely that you’ll suffer from a heart attack or stroke. The Everlywell at-home Cholesterol and Lipids Test is a good way to check in on your heart.

Now, let’s dig deeper into cholesterol and triglycerides – and what they can mean for your heart health.

Direct LDL Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol has a bad reputation – and rightly so. Known as the “bad cholesterol,” LDL cholesterol can gum up the inner walls of your arteries with plaque. Eventually, this can restrict the flow of blood from your heart to the rest of your body – and even lead to a heart attack or stroke.

How LDL Cholesterol Affects Heart Disease Risk

If you have a lot of LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream, plaque can keep building up in your arteries – steadily increasing your risk of heart disease.

But what’s considered “a lot of LDL cholesterol”?

An LDL value in the range of 130-159 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) is borderline high, while an LDL value in the range of 160-189 mg/dL is high. If your LDL cholesterol levels shoot past 189 mg/dL, then you have very high LDL – and are especially at risk for developing heart disease.

LDL can be calculated from the measurements of the other markers (cholesterol, HDL, and triglycerides), or it can be measured directly. A direct measurement is considered to be a more accurate representation of your actual levels.

What Causes High LDL Cholesterol?

A nutritionally poor diet and lack of exercise are two common culprits behind high LDL levels. However, these are not the only possible causes of high LDL: your genes can also play a role in driving up your LDL.

Case in point: familial hypercholesterolemia, the #1 inherited heart disease. This genetic condition comes with very elevated LDL cholesterol levels that occur when you’re young and may not be able to be significantly modified even with the right combination of diet and exercise.

One clue that you might have inherited this condition is your family history: you’re more likely to have familial hypercholesterolemia if a relative has had a heart attack at a young age.

HDL Cholesterol

Unlike “bad cholesterol,” HDL cholesterol won’t clog your arteries with plaques. Quite the opposite, actually, HDL cholesterol can protect your arteries – and heart – against the damaging effects of LDL. So, because it can reduce the risk of heart disease, HDL cholesterol is appropriately known as the “good cholesterol.”

How HDL Cholesterol Affects Heart Disease Risk

Normal-to-high levels of HDL can keep LDL levels in check because HDL binds to LDL and transports it to the liver to be broken down, making it less likely that you’ll experience a heart or stroke. Low amounts of HDL in your blood, however, can leave plenty of LDL cholesterol particles roaming around in your arteries and creating plaque deposits – increasing your risk of heart disease.

How Can You Boost HDL Levels?

What can you do to drive up your HDL levels? Here are a few tips:

  • Exercise regularly – Make sure you get in at least 60 minutes of aerobic activity each week.

  • Reduce your consumption of fried food or foods filled with saturated fat (many meat and cheese products are high in saturated fat) – Instead, eat more foods with unsaturated fat (beans, olive oil, nuts, high fiber fruits, and oily fish – like salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, and sardines – are all good sources of unsaturated fat).

  • If you smoke, strive to quitQuitting smoking can rapidly boost HDL.

Total Cholesterol

Total cholesterol that is calculated simply refers to your combined HDL and LDL values (plus a portion of your triglyceride level). A directly measured total cholesterol level also includes some other types of lipids, like VLDL, and can often be higher than a calculated total cholesterol level is, but more representative of what is actually in your body.

A high total cholesterol level is generally a sign that you face a bigger risk of heart disease.

Family History and Total Cholesterol

If members of your family have a history of high cholesterol, it’s more likely that you will also experience elevated cholesterol. And, if that’s the case, it’s important that you check your cholesterol levels more frequently than the average person.

(At minimum, you should check your cholesterol levels every 5 years – if you’re 20 or older – even if you don’t have a family history of high cholesterol.)


Triglycerides are a kind of fat that comes from various plant and seed oils and animal food sources. Triglycerides can also be made in your body from foods that are very starchy or have high sugar content (extra sugar can get converted to and stored as fats). Your bloodstream carries triglyceride particles to cells in your body, where they are burned for energy. Triglycerides thus support many of the body’s activities. Trouble arises, however, when triglyceride levels soar too high – as this can hike up your risk of heart disease.

How Triglyceride Levels Affect Your Risk of Heart Disease

When triglyceride levels climb too high, you have a greater chance of getting coronary artery disease. (Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease in the United States, as well as the #1 cause of death.)

So what’s the ideal triglyceride level?

In general, a normal triglyceride level hovers somewhere below 150 mg/dL. A level that’s between 150 mg/dL and 199 mg/dL is borderline high. Triglyceride levels above 199 mg/dL are considered high (and it’s very high if that number hits 500 mg/dL or more).

How Can You Keep Your Triglyceride Levels Within a Healthy Range?

Here are a few tips for keeping your triglyceride levels within a healthy range:

(Want more tips like these? Here are 13 Simple Ways to Lower Your Triglycerides.)

When Should You Re-Test Your Cholesterol Levels?

Adults who are 20 or older should have their cholesterol levels checked every 4 to 6 years, according to the American Heart Association. More frequent cholesterol screening may be recommended depending on your risk factors, so talk with your healthcare provider to learn what's right for you.

How You Can Test Your Cholesterol and Lipid Levels at Home

If you aren’t a huge fan of getting your blood drawn at the doctor’s, you’ll love the convenience of Everlywell’s at-home Cholesterol and Lipids kit. This kit requires only a few drops of blood as a sample, which you’ll enclose in a special plastic bag. Then you’ll pop it in the mail to send your sample to the lab (the kit comes with a prepaid shipping label). Several days later, after the lab has analyzed your sample, you can just hop online – on Everlywell’s secure platform – to easily view your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

What Are Good Cholesterol Numbers?

What to Eat on a Low Cholesterol Diet

What Is Non-HDL Cholesterol?

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