Non-HDL cholesterol is a way of measuring “bad” cholesterol in the body. A healthy range for adults ages 20 years and over is less than 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

Non-high-density lipoprotein (non-HDL) cholesterol is a way of measuring levels of plaque-causing lipoproteins in the blood. These include low-density lipoprotein (LDL), very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), intermediate-density lipoprotein, and lipoprotein(a) (Lp(a).

Doctors commonly measure non-HDL cholesterol levels in a lipid panel, also known as a cholesterol test. It calculates all the “bad” types of cholesterol in the body by subtracting HDL, or “good” cholesterol, from a person’s total cholesterol.

This article discusses non-HDL cholesterol, what it includes, and its typical range. It also explores other indicators of cholesterol levels, and the levels that health experts consider typical.

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The typical range of non-HDL cholesterol varies with age.

The typical range of non-HDL cholesterol for anyone ages 19 and younger is under 120 mg/dL. For those ages 20 and above, the typical range of non-HDL cholesterol is under 130 mg/dL.

The higher the non-HDL cholesterol, the higher the risk of heart disease.

Learn more about high non-HDL cholesterol levels.

Not all lipid panel tests specifically list the non-HDL cholesterol. However, a person can calculate their non-HDL cholesterol by using their test results and following the equation: total cholesterol – HDL = non-HDL.

For example, if a person has a total cholesterol of 240 mg/dl and an HDL of 40, their non-HDL is 200 mg/dl.

Learn more about the importance of cholesterol ratios.

Cholesterol tests usually report the following numbers and ratios:

  • LDL level: Health experts call LDL “bad” cholesterol. It is the leading cause of cholesterol buildup that blocks artery walls and causes atherosclerosis.
  • HDL level: Health experts call HDL “good” cholesterol that helps clear fats from the bloodstream. The higher the level of HDL, the lower the person’s risk of heart disease.
  • Total cholesterol (TC): This measures the total amount of cholesterol in the body, including HDL and LDL.
  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood that stores unused calories.
  • VLDL level: VLDL mainly carries triglycerides away from the bloodstream into the body’s tissues. VLDL contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries.
  • IDL: Similar to LDL, IDL transports cholesterol and other fats around the body.

Learn about what to expect from a cholesterol test.

The table below shows the expected healthy cholesterol level based on age and sex:

Type of cholesterolAnyone ages 19 or youngerMales ages 20 or overFemales ages 20 or over
Total cholesterolless than 170 mg/dl125 to 200 mg/dl125 to 200 mg/dl
non-HDLless than 120 mg/dlless than 130 mg/dlless than 130 mg/dl
LDLless than 100 mg/dlless than 100 mg/dlless than 100 mg/dl
HDLmore than 45 mg/dl40 mg/dl or higher50 mg/dl or higher

However, a doctor may set different cholesterol target goals for individuals. However, studies have shown that lower levels are desirable. A healthcare professional may recommend a lower target if a person has specific conditions, such as a history of heart attack, stroke, or heart disease risk factors.

Meanwhile, a 2022 article states that some laboratory reports indicate the desirable total cholesterol to HDL ratio is 5:1, with an ideal ratio of 3.5 to 1. Generally, the lower the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL, the better.

Learn more about typical cholesterol levels.

A high cholesterol level does not necessarily cause symptoms. A person can only determine if they have high cholesterol by taking a lipid profile test.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends individuals undergo regular screening to keep their cholesterol levels in check. They state that:

  • individuals ages 9 to 11 should undergo screening every 5 years
  • males ages 45 to 65 and females ages 55 to 65 should undergo screening every 1 to 2 years
  • people older than 65 years should undergo annual screening

Doctors may also ask individuals at risk of heart disease to have their levels checked more often. These include those with:

A person whose cholesterol results fall outside typical ranges should talk with a healthcare professional. In addition to lifestyle changes, healthcare professionals may recommend regular screening to monitor cholesterol levels and determine medication needs.

Learn about medications for high cholesterol.

What does it mean if your non-HDL cholesterol is high?

A high non-HDL cholesterol level means a person has high “bad” cholesterol levels A hraltin their blood. This can increase the risk of developing certain conditions, such as heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

While current guidelines for cholesterol management focus on LDL targets, some experts consider non-HDL a superior predictor of heart disease risk than LDL and cholesterol ratios because it encompasses LDL, VLDL, and triglyceride-rich lipoproteins.

Learn more about high cholesterol and heart disease.

How do you fix non-HDL cholesterol?

Lowering non-HDL cholesterol levels may require lifestyle changes and medication.

Lifestyle changes can include eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains and low in processed foods, salt, saturated fats, and trans fats. A healthcare professional may also recommend regular exercise, avoiding excessive alcohol intake, and quitting smoking, if applicable.

Medications can help to lower LDL and prevent heart disease.

Learn about the best ways to lower cholesterol.

What foods increase non-HDL cholesterol?

Foods high in saturated and trans fats can increase non-HDL cholesterol. Examples include fatty beef, lamb, pork, saturated vegetable oils, and commercially fried foods.

Learn more about food and cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol readings are generally helpful in providing an overview of a person’s general health. However, many experts find non-HDL cholesterol a more reliable measure of someone’s heart disease risk.

A person with high levels of non-HDL cholesterol or undesirable cholesterol levels should talk with a healthcare professional who can help them reach or maintain healthy cholesterol levels. This may involve making lifestyle changes and, in some cases, taking prescription medications.