Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), also called “bad” cholesterol, is one of four markers measured by a lipid profile. The quality of LDL that gives it a negative denotation is its contribution to plaque—a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks one of these narrowed arteries, heart attack or stroke can occur. For this reason, the lower your LDL cholesterol number, the lower your risk. It is recommended that a lipid profile be done every four to six years in all adults with no risk factors for heart disease. Frequently, a healthcare provider will order a lipid profile more frequently if you have one or more risk factors for heart disease, such as:
- Cigarette smoking
- Being overweight or obese
- Unhealthy diet
- Being physically inactive
- Age (males older than 45 or females older than 55)
- High blood pressure
- Family history of cardiovascular disease
- Diabetes / prediabetes
In addition, acute illness, heart attack, and stressor like surgery or an accident are known to skew LDL-C blood tests. It is worth noting that, in women, LDL-C usually rises during pregnancy.
LDL level in mg/dL
Risk of heart disease (independent of other risk factors)
Near normal, slightly elevated
High to very high
Low levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol—“bad” cholesterol—mean a lower risk of developing heart disease. As mentioned, this is because when there is excess LDL-C in the blood, it contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can result in heart attack or stroke if a clot tries to pass through.
Talk to your healthcare practitioner about a potential treatment plan. A high level of LDL can increase your risk for coronary heart disease. If your LDL-C is high enough, a statin prescription may be desirable. Statins lower your cholesterol by inhibiting the liver enzyme responsible for the production of cholesterol.
- Reducing your LDL will reduce your risk for coronary heart disease. [L]
- Dietary cholesterol consumption has a clear connection to blood cholesterol concentrations [L]
- Multiple studies have linked dietary patterns with incidence of coronary heart disease and found that groups consuming predominantly plant-based foods, versus animal-based, have lower rates of heart disease. [L]
Various studies [L, L, L, L, L, L, L, L, L] have shown that nutritional and lifestyle interventions have halted and even reversed coronary artery disease (CAD). The interventions included among other things:
- low-fat vegan whole-foods plant-based diet,
- stopping smoking,
- stress management training,
- and moderate exercise
The easiest lifestyle adjustment you can make to lower LDL-C is to eat better and exercise more.
- Eat foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol. Here is a general guide to following a whole food plantbased diet.
- Remove all type of meats from diet [L]
- Remove coconut oil from diet. [L]
- Eat fiber rich food
- Exercise at least 2.5 hours / week
- Lower stress
- Limit alcohol intake
- Quit smoking
Note to vegans: If you are already following a plantbased diet, keep in mind that not all vegan foods are necessary beneficial for your health. This might include juices/sweetened beverages, refined grains, potatoes/fries, sweets. [L, L]
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