New guidelines warn 'bad' cholesterol levels should be as low as possible

'Bad' LDL cholesterol levels that fall within existing guidelines may still be too high for many people, according to new guidelines published by the European Society of Cardiology. Experts are recommending that adults — particularly those who have elevated heart disease risk factors — aim to lower their 'bad' cholesterol levels as much as possible in order to reduce their odds of developing a deadly condition most commonly referred to as clogged arteries.

The European Society of Cardiology and European Atherosclerosis Society Guidelines are warning that there is no 'bad' cholesterol limit under which one could be considered safe from the risk of developing clogged arteries. For this reason, health officials are advising that LDL cholesterol levels should be lowered as much as possible to protect one's heart health.

Cholesterol, a fatty substance found in the blood, is often referred to as 'good' HDL cholesterol and 'bad' LDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol works by taking up the 'bad' LDL cholesterol out of one's blood; if bad cholesterol levels are too high, it can lead to accumulation in arteries and the eventual development of a serious cardiovascular disease commonly called 'clogged arteries.'

In guidelines published on August 31, health officials in Europe have advised that LDL cholesterol levels in adults should be kept as low as possible in order to prevent the development of cardiovascular disease. A large body of existing research indicates that the higher one's 'bad' cholesterol levels, the greater their odds of developing clogged arteries, particularly in people who are considered high and very high risk.

This warning mirrors the sentiment of the American Heart Association, which states in its '2018 Guideline on the Management of Blood Cholesterol' report that, 'While there is no ideal target blood level for LDL-C ... lower is better.' Based on existing studies, the American Heart Association says that total cholesterol levels around 150 mg/dL are optimal with LDL cholesterol, in particular, kept no higher than 100 mg/dL.

While statin medications can be prescribed by doctors to at-risk individuals when necessary, the latest European guidelines advocate for lifestyle changes in adults at any age and risk level. Smokers should quit smoking to lower their cardiovascular disease risk, according to the guidelines, and adults should adopt lifestyles that include healthy diets and regular exercise.