Cholesterol is an essential substance that the liver produces. Dietary factors and some health issues can lead to high cholesterol, which is a risk factor for several conditions.
High cholesterol, also known as hypercholesterolemia, refers to high levels of either LDL or total cholesterol in the body. It can occur if a person eats a diet high in fat. Other causes of high cholesterol include genetic disorders, such as familial hypercholesterolemia, stress, a sedentary lifestyle, medications, and some health conditions.
This article discusses the main causes of high cholesterol, healthy cholesterol levels in adults, and how to prevent high cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is present in every cell of the body. The body produces cholesterol, but people also consume it in food. It is an oil-based substance and does not mix with blood, which is water-based.
- contributing to the structure of cell walls
- making up digestive bile acids in the intestine
- allowing the body to produce vitamin D
- enabling the body to make certain hormones
Cholesterol travels around the body in lipoproteins.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): Cholesterol that travels in this way is unhealthful or “bad” cholesterol.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL): Cholesterol that is present in HDL is known as “good” cholesterol.
It is also important to take into account triglycerides and total cholesterol:
- Triglycerides: This is a type of fat the body uses for energy. High triglyceride levels combined with high LDL (bad) cholesterol or low HDL (good) cholesterol can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Total cholesterol: The complete amount of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in the blood.
High cholesterol can result from a diet high in fat. Reducing the intake of fat in the diet helps manage cholesterol levels. In particular, it is helpful to limit foods that contain:
- Cholesterol: This is present in animal foods, meat, and cheese.
- Saturated fat: This occurs in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, and deep-fried and processed foods.
- Trans fats: This occurs in some fried and processed foods.
Learn more about high cholesterol foods.
Stress may contribute to high cholesterol levels.
For instance, an
However, more research is necessary to verify the link between stress and high cholesterol levels.
Learn more about how stress affects cholesterol levels.
A sedentary lifestyle may contribute to high cholesterol levels.
People who take
Commonly known medications that have a negative effect on lipid levels include:
- cardiovascular medications
- certain immunosuppressives
- SGLT2 inhibitors to treat diabetes
- progestins, anabolic steroids, and corticosteroids
Some health conditions increase the chance of developing high cholesterol. These include:
- high blood pressure
- liver or kidney disease
- polycystic ovary syndrome
- pregnancy and other conditions that increase levels of female hormones
- underactive thyroid gland
- nephrotic syndrome
Having certain risk factors can increase the chance of having high cholesterol. These include:
- excess weight or obesity
- age — 45 years and over for males and 55 years and over for females
A buildup of cholesterol is part of the process that narrows arteries, called atherosclerosis. In atherosclerosis, plaques form and cause restriction of blood flow.
For this reason, doctors recommend keeping total and LDL cholesterol levels within certain ranges. They measure cholesterol in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
The table below shows optimal cholesterol levels, according to the
|Type of cholesterol||Optimal cholesterol levels|
|LDL “bad” cholesterol||about 100 mg/dL|
|HDL “good” cholesterol||at least 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women|
|total cholesterol||about 150 mg/dL|
Knowing the causes of high cholesterol can help a person reduce or manage their cholesterol levels, including:
- eating a heart-healthy diet
- exercising regularly
- avoiding smoking
- achieving and maintaining a moderate weight
- family history and ethnicity
- certain health conditions that increase the risk of high cholesterol, such as chronic kidney disease or chronic inflammatory conditions
Taking these factors into consideration will lead to a more personalized approach to the treatment and prevention of high cholesterol levels.
Below are some commonly asked questions on the causes of high cholesterol:
What foods will cause high cholesterol?
Following a nutritious, balanced diet is one way to help with moderate cholesterol levels. A person may wish to avoid red meat, sausages, bacon, and organ meats, such as kidney and liver, due to their saturated fat and sodium content.
Does stress increase cholesterol?
Stress may increase cholesterol levels. This can happen indirectly through adopting less healthy habits as a coping method. There may also be a direct biological link. However, more research is necessary on this topic.
Can alcohol cause high cholesterol?
Alcohol does not contain cholesterol. However, a high alcohol intake of over
A standard drink is any beverage containing
Cholesterol is an essential substance that the body produces but which people also consume in foods such as meat, dairy, and poultry products.
Some people have a family history of high cholesterol, and genetic factors may play a role.
Eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly are some lifestyle choices people can make to manage their cholesterol levels.