What Do Your Cholesterol Numbers Mean?

To Save You Time We Put Everything In This Blog Post Into A Handy PDF So You Can Reference Anytime.  

We have had some questions lately about cholesterol numbers, how to understand them? What exactly is cholesterol etc?  So I decided to put this blog together discussing ideal myths and truths of cholesterol, what cholesterol does in the body and why it’s extremely important, and what your lab values actually mean.

So the purpose of this post is to start with some basics. There is always more complexity to any personal health situation.  The goal of this post is to create a basic understanding for you to figure it out on your own or work with your healthcare provider to help you more specifically.

*(As always this isn’t personal medical advice)*

What In The Heck Is Cholesterol Exactly?

  • Cholesterol is a lipid (fat) molecule
  • It is essential component of all animal cells to maintain cell membrane structure
  • It helps create steroid hormones like your sex hormones and stress hormones
  • It is a precursor to bile acids (hello gallbladder function)
  • It is precursor to Vitamin D
  • Helps function of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K

Myths Of Cholesterol

  • There is no such thing as bad or good cholesterol.  HDL & LDL are proteins that bind and transport cholesterol molecules. Both have specific functions.  LDL is the main protein involved in membrane repair of cells. (more on this later).
  • Cholesterol and fat we eat only increase blood cholesterol levels by half of 1%.  So saying you should avoid fat and cholesterol in your diet is stupid. So yes, you should eat the whole egg.
  • Simply decreasing total cholesterol numbers doesn’t decrease your incidence of having a heart attack (There are more important variables along with your cholesterol numbers that show you are more at risk. We will discuss these later).

What Are The True Causes Of High Cholesterol Numbers?

  • Familial Hyper Cholesterolemia (genetic variations). Your particles are actually malfunctioning. Thanks, Mom & Dad!
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Excessive carb/sugar intake (blood sugar issues)
  • Stress (lack of sleep, job, injury etc)
  • Chronic inflammation (gut infections, dysbiosis, poor thyroid function)


As you can see cholesterol is really important with many functions of the body. You can also see that despite a lot of hype fat and cholesterol food consumption isn’t necessarily responsible for high cholesterol levels.  Because of the function of membrane repair and structure excessive chronic inflammation, stress etc would cause cholesterol levels to elevate.


How To Make Sure You Are Getting The Most Accurate Test

  • You must fast to get an accurate reading on a cholesterol and lipid panel. 12 hours minimum. 16 hours is ideal.
  • Your total cholesterol number can vary +/- 17 pts from day to day.  So if you had your blood work done and your cholesterol number was 200.  You could take the test again the next day and it could be 183 or 217. This is why your healthcare provider shouldn’t try to put you on a statin after one test.
  • If you have elevated cholesterol and lipid markers you must test on a regular basis for 3 months to get an accurate pattern.
  • Your weight must be stable for 3 months to get an accurate reading.  So if you are losing weight and are checking your cholesterol numbers every month your numbers may not change until you stabilize.


What Are Functional/Ideal Lab Ranges:

Standard Lipid Panel (This is an adequate test for a majority of people).

Total Cholesterol

0-150-Possibly too low especially for women. Symptoms can mimic hormonal and thyroid problems.

150-200-Average and ideal for most

200-250-Conventional say it is bad but this can be normal for many women who fall between 220-240.

250-300-More detailed testing is needed to see why it is elevated in this range

300+-More detailed testing needed. Can be a sign of hypothyroidism or familial hypercholesterolemia. Consult physician.


70-100-Ideal range

100-130-Moderate high start looking at diet, stress levels, sleep, alcohol consumption

130-160- More detailed testing needed.

160+- More detailed testing needed.  Check thyroid levels and for familial hypercholesterolemia. Consult Physician  


65-175-Ideal range. Higher levels of HDL more detailed testing would be needed to see the quality of HDL particles (more on this later).

Triglyceride/HDL Ratio

0-2.5-Ideal range

2.5+-May be a sign of insulin resistance and blood sugar problems

You can order a basic lipid panel here

More Detailed Testing:

NMR Profile-This will test particle size and number and genetic variations. This test would be ordered if you see a pattern of higher cholesterol and triglyceride numbers as a standard lipid panel isn’t a great indication whether or not you are at risk for a cardiovascular event.  Most NMR panels will look at blood sugar markers as well.

Apo A-1-This is the genetic marker of HDL and can give an indication of the health and function of your HDL

Apo-B-This is the genetic marker of LDL, VLDL, IDL. >100 is ideal for low-risk individuals. 60-80 is ideal desirable levels for high-risk individuals. The higher the level the higher risk of a cardiovascular event.

LDL-P- This is checking the particle size of the LDL protein.

>=700-If you have a history of cardiovascular disease

>=1000-Ideal range

1600+-Higher risk for cardiovascular disease

Lipoprotein A-This is a genetic risk marker.  The higher the levels the higher risk of having a cardiovascular event.  

You can order NMR Profile here

Basic Thyroid Panel

You would want to test for TSH, Total T4, Free T4, T3 Uptake You can order panel here

Other Markers To Test For In Higher Risk Individuals Or Pattern Of Elevated Cholesterol and Lipid Levels





Fasting Glucose


As you can see a standard lipid panel doesn’t give the full picture on whether or not you are at risk of a heart attack. In fact, we are simply touching the surface on how complicated this can be.

A standard lipid panel simply tells us how much cholesterol is inside the lipoproteins that are carrying it.

For most people, a standard lipid panel is enough to get a baseline of how your body is functioning.  However, If you see a pattern of higher lipid and cholesterol levels or have a family history of cardiovascular disease further testing is warranted to see the exact cause of the abnormal numbers.  

The Action Plan

Now we are going to give the action plan and the diet and lifestyle recommendations.   While this isn’t an exact and exhaustive list this will help manage the majority of causes of elevated cholesterol and inflammation we discussed earlier which are:

  • Familial Hypercholesterolemia (genetic variations). Your particles are actually malfunctioning. Thanks, Mom & Dad!  
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Excessive carb/sugar intake (blood sugar issues)
  • Stress (lack of sleep, job, injury etc)
  • Chronic inflammation (gut infections, dysbiosis, poor thyroid function)


We are looking to consume higher nutrient-dense foods and avoid foods that tend to be more pro-inflammatory.


Grass-fed Beef



Fish of all kinds


Shellfish (unless you are allergic)


Collagen/Gelatin (I personally use Great Lakes and Vital Proteins)


Coconut Oil

Grass-fed Butter/Ghee

Walnuts (If you don’t have digestion issues nut butter can be used as well)

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil


Leafy Greens all varieties



Brussels sprouts





Swiss Chard




Avocado (works for fat too!)


Citrus Fruits




Bone Broth




Black Pepper








Things To Avoid:

Gluten (I know, I know)

Don’t eat out at restaurants more than 2x a week. This will help you avoid cheap oils that many foods are cooked in.

Clean out our your pantry and get rid of all packaged and processed junk food

Alcohol and Tobacco products (Alcohol should be avoided for at least 30 days and then no more than 2 drinks a week).

Lifestyle Recommendations:

Move more than you sit. This doesn’t have to be a strenuous exercise.

Tame The Stress Monster (We did a whole presentation on this and you can get it for free by clicking here)

Sleep. Get your sleep, not much to say just do it.  (We interviewed Doc Parsley all about sleep)


B Vitamins


Alpha Lipoic Acid

Coenzyme Q10 (especially if you are already taking a statin)



Vitamin D



To Save You Time We Put Everything In This Blog Post Into A Handy PDF So You Can Reference Anytime.