What Does Low Cholesterol Mean?

Low cholesterol can be a good thing, depending on the type of cholesterol. One cholesterol type is the exception -- your high-density lipoprotein, or HDL. Unlike your low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, and your total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol must be high to reduce your risk of heart disease.

Stethoscope and heart. (Image: bai1ran/iStock/Getty Images)

Cholesterol Types

You have three main types of cholesterol -- LDL, HDL and total. All three contribute to heart disease in some way. If your LDL level is 129 mg/dL or less, and your total cholesterol level is lower than 200 mg/dL, your doctor considers your cholesterol low, along with your risk of developing heart disease. To maintain a reduced risk of heart disease, your HDL level should be 60 mg/dL or higher; if it is 40 mg/dL or less in a man, or 50 mg/dL or below in a woman, the risk for heart disease increases, explains the American Heart Association.

The Significance of HDL

HDL cholesterol has a significant impact on your health. If you have an excessive amount of LDL or total cholesterol in your blood, it builds along your artery walls, creating a substance known as plaque. Over time, plaque hardens, narrowing the passageways of your blood vessels and restricting blood flow to your heart and brain. Your HDL cholesterol scours your blood and arteries, attaching itself to excess LDL and total cholesterol, transporting it from your body. This lowers your blood cholesterol along with your risk of heart disease.

Maintaining Healthy Cholesterol Levels

If your LDL and total cholesterol levels are within a healthy range, half the battle is won. Maintaining a healthy weight is important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that high cholesterol accompanies obesity. Stay away from saturated fats such as red meat, high-fat dairy products, eggs and vegetable oil. Trans fats are worse. Sources include cookies, cakes, pastries, potato chips and snack crackers. Add fish such as tuna, salmon, halibut and cod into your diet. These contain omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy fat that lowers your cholesterol. Exercise a minimum of five days a week for 30 minutes.

Increase Your HDL

The treatment for a low HDL mirrors that of maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. If you shed excess pounds, you can increase your HDL by 1 mg/dL for every 6 lbs. you lose. Exercise increases this cholesterol type up to 5 percent over a two month period in the average sedentary adult. Smokers who quit can expect up to a 10 percent increase in their HDL level. If these changes aren't enough, you may need a cholesterol medication for a quicker boost in your level.

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