Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals | Kathy Kliebert, Secretary

Statewide Initiatives

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Cholesterol Facts

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance naturally produced by the liver in our bodies. It is essential for the production of hormones and Vitamin D and an integral part of cell membranes. The level produced by our bodies is safe in most people.

Why is it dangerous?

When we eat foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol (called dietary cholesterol), it can raise our total cholesterol to a dangerous level. When our bodies cannot use all of the cholesterol, it is deposited along the arterial walls as plaque. The plaque hardens and leads to stenosis and atherosclerosis. As the plaque builds up, it contributes to the formation of blood clots. A person with high cholesterol levels is at great risk for a heart attack or stroke. Adults age 20 and over should have their cholesterol checked at least every five years.

What is "Good" and "Bad" cholesterol?

Total cholesterol is made up of two components, High density Lipoproteins (HDL) and Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL). HDL is the "good" cholesterol. It carries cholesterol through the blood but instead of depositing the excess on the arterial wall, it returns it to the liver. A high HDL number is associated with reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.

LDL is the "bad" cholesterol. It circulates around the body depositing cholesterol where it is needed. But if there is excess, it is deposited along the arterial wall and turns into plaque. A person with a high LDL number is at great risk for heart attack or stroke.

What are the numbers?

Total Cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dl Desirable

200 to 239 mg/dl Borderline High

240 mg/dl and above High (twice the risk of having heart attack or stroke as someone with 200 mg/dl or below)


HDL 60 mg/dl and above

Protective against heart disease

40 to 59 mg/dl Some risk

Less than 40 mg/dl Major risk for heart disease and stroke

LDL Less than 100 mg/dl Optimal

100 to 129 mg/dl Near optimal

130 to 159 mg/dl Borderline High

160 mg/dl to 189 mg/dl High

190 mg/dl and above Very High (Talk to your doctor)

What can I do?

You can lower your cholesterol by doing three things on your own:

  1. Include whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and fish in your diet. Choose meats lower in saturated fat and cholesterol.
  2. Lose weight if you are overweight.
  3. Become physically active to lower your LDL number and raise your HDL number. (Current recommendation is 30 minutes per day most days of the week.)

Adults age 20 and over should have their cholesterol checked at least every five years.