Cholesterol readings don’t have to be confusing. There is total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol. There’s also non-HDL cholesterol.
What exactly is non-HDL cholesterol, how is it different from the other cholesterol readings, and what do you need to know about it?
As you might know, not all cholesterol is bad. Your body needs some cholesterol in order to function properly. But you don’t want too much of it, particularly the bad kinds.
Non-HDL cholesterol, also known as non-HDL-C, is a way of measuring how much of the bad kinds of cholesterol you have in your blood. It’s also a helpful way for your doctor to evaluate your risk of heart disease.
Keep reading to learn about what makes up your non-HDL cholesterol number, how it affects heart health, and how you can reduce this type of cholesterol.
To determine your cholesterol levels, your
When you get a lipid panel with non-HDL cholesterol, your doctor is measuring your HDL and LDL cholesterol. HDL is also known as the “good” cholesterol, while LDL is often called the “bad” cholesterol.
Your doctor may request this test to offer strategies to reduce your risk of heart disease. You might be at a higher risk of heart disease if you have high total cholesterol, or if you have:
Also, some lifestyle factors may lead your doctor to measure your non-HDL cholesterol:
You may get other tests along with the lipid panel with non-HDL cholesterol, the University of Rochester Medical Center says. To further assess your heart health, your doctor may also request:
- electrocardiogram (ECG) to study your heartbeat
- stress test where you exercise while connected to ECG
- echocardiogram to take an image of your heart
- cardiac catheterization which allows doctors to take X-rays to find blockages in your arteries
All of these tests give your doctor the information they need to help you improve and support your heart health.
Many people want to lower the level of cholesterol in their blood. But total cholesterol doesn’t tell the whole story.
To better understand your heart disease risks, total cholesterol is broken down into:
- high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
- low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
- non-HDL cholesterol
Let’s take a closer look at each type of cholesterol and what it means.
HDL is commonly referred to as the “good” cholesterol. According to the
Having high HDL naturally is good for your health. Some medications, like niacin, can raise your HDL. But a
LDL is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol. If you have too much, it can clog your arteries and restrict blood flow. This can lead to a heart attack or stroke. You want your LDL cholesterol to be as low as possible.
Triglycerides are a kind of fat you get from food. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, extra triglycerides can pile up when you eat more calories than you burn off.
High triglyceride levels in the blood have been linked to heart disease. But other conditions, like diabetes and obesity, often accompany high triglyceride levels. In a
Like LDL, the goal is to keep triglyceride levels low.
Related to triglycerides are very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), which are made in the liver. VLDL won’t show up on your report because there’s no way to accurately measure it. It’s typically estimated as a percentage of the triglyceride value. This is important because VLDL transports triglycerides.
As the name implies, non-HDL cholesterol is basically your HDL, or “good,” cholesterol number subtracted from your total cholesterol number. In other words, it’s a measure of all the “bad” types of cholesterol. Ideally, you want this number to be lower rather than higher.
The higher your non-HDL cholesterol, the
Healthy non-HDL cholesterol range
Non-HDL cholesterol is made up of “bad” cholesterol, including LDL and triglycerides. The
For other types of cholesterol, the following
|Recommended cholesterol levels|
|Total cholesterol||less than 200 mg/dL|
|LDL cholesterol||less than 100 mg/dL|
|HDL cholesterol||greater than or equal to 60 mg/dL|
|Triglycerides||less than 150 mg/dL|
Your doctor may have different goals for you if you’re at a high risk of heart disease or have already had heart disease.
Keep in mind that the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology are both phasing out the concept of target LDL and non-HDL levels. Instead, these levels are being replaced with a risk calculator. This guideline calculates the 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease for adults without known cardiovascular risk and diabetes.
In this case, medical professionals will look at an LDL of 190 or above and treat that person with statin. This guideline takes into account whether someone has cardiovascular disease.
If your non-HDL cholesterol is high, you may be at a higher risk of developing atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries. Non-HDL cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease and:
Studies are beginning to highlight the importance of non-HDL cholesterol in assessing cardiovascular risk.
For example, in a
A 2017 study involved more than 4,800 men and included a 22-year follow-up. The researchers concluded that when it comes to predicting cardiovascular disease mortality, non-HDL cholesterol may be more significant than LDL.
You get all the cholesterol you need from your liver. You also get some from foods like meat, poultry, dairy products, and saturated oils used in baked goods. These foods also prompt your liver to make more cholesterol.
To reduce your overall cholesterol levels,
- Baked goods: store-bought cookies, cakes, pastries, frozen pies
- Snack foods: crackers, microwaveable popcorn, frozen pizza crusts, meat pies
- Fried fast foods: fried chicken, french fries, fried noodles, battered fish
- Vegetable shortening: often used in baked goods as a cheap alternative to butter
- Stick margarine: made from hydrogenated vegetable oils
- Non-dairy coffee creamers: used as a substitute for milk and cream in coffee, tea, and other hot beverages
Instead of eating processed foods, try to focus on eating more whole foods, if they’re available to you. These include fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. You can also look for healthy sources of protein, like fish, skinless chicken, and lean red meat.
Some foods that may help improve LDL cholesterol
- oatmeal and oat bran
- kidney beans
- Brussels sprouts
- apples and pears
Some foods that may help lower triglycerides include:
- fish high in omega-3 oils, like salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and trout
- flaxseed oil
- canola oil
Other ways to improve your cholesterol
- exercising at a moderate level of activity for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week
- avoiding smoking
- limiting alcohol intake
- maintaining a moderate weight
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications.
High HDL cholesterol is helpful, but high non-HDL cholesterol may mean you’re at an increased risk of heart disease.
Certain lifestyle changes involving diet, exercise, and not smoking may be able to help you manage your non-HDL cholesterol. If that doesn’t work, medications are an effective way to help control cholesterol. If you don’t know your cholesterol numbers, talk with your doctor about getting tested.