Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is a lipid in your blood that is often referred to as "bad cholesterol." LDL has developed this moniker because having elevated levels -- defined as anything over 159 milligrams per deciliter -- can lead to narrowing of the arteries, which puts you at risk for heart disease. Most excess LDL cholesterol comes from diet, but heredity and lifestyle habits contribute as well. Because many of the risk factors of elevated LDL levels are within your control, changing your lifestyle habits can help keep your numbers in the healthy range.
A diet that is high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can increase your risk of developing elevated LDL levels. In addition to raising LDL levels, trans fats, which are mainly found in processed foods and commercially baked items, lower your HDL, or "good" cholesterol levels. Keep your cholesterol levels within healthy ranges by limiting daily cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams, keeping saturated fat at less than 10 percent of calorie intake and making sure trans fat is less than 2 percent of calorie intake. Eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and heart-healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocado and vegetable oils.
High LDL levels can have a genetic factor. A specific type of high cholesterol, called familial hypercholesterolemia, is passed down through families. The condition is characterized by a defect of chromosome 19, which results in an inability to remove LDL from the blood. People with familial hypercholesterolemia may have heart attacks at an earlier age than people without the condition.
Individual characteristics, such as age and sex, play a role in the amount of LDL in your blood. As you age, your LDL levels tend to rise, reports the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Generally, premenopausal women have lower LDL levels than men of the same age; however, after menopause, women’s LDL levels rise above the LDL levels of their male peers.
Carrying excess weight increases your risk of developing high LDL levels. Those with a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or greater -- which is classified as obese -- are at an even higher risk. MayoClinic.com notes that losing just 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight can significantly decrease your risk of developing high LDL levels.
Sedentary individuals tend to have higher LDL levels than individuals who are physically active. Regular exercise helps lower your LDL levels while simultaneously increasing your HDL levels. Aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise on most days of the week. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have existing heart disease.
- American Heart Association: Prevention and Treatment of High Cholesterol
- University of Illinois Extension: Dietary Factors that Increase Blood Cholesterol
- Daiichi Sankyo, Inc.: Facts About Cholesterol
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need to Know
- MayoClinic.com: High Cholesterol
- PubMed Health: Familial Hypercholesterolemia
Lindsay Boyers has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.