Diabetes can have a negative effect on a person’s cholesterol levels. This may be due to a condition that can raise LDL cholesterol levels.

However, with proper care, a healthy diet, and exercise, a person with diabetes can help reduce the impact of high cholesterol levels.

Read on to learn more about the connection between diabetes and cholesterol levels and how to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The American Heart Association (AHA) state that diabetes can cause a condition known as diabetic dyslipidemia.

Older research indicates that diabetic dyslipidemia has links with lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, as well as triglycerides.

HDL cholesterol is what some experts call “good” cholesterol, while LDL cholesterol is what they refer to as “bad” cholesterol.

When a person’s LDL cholesterol levels rise too high, LDL cholesterol can form plaques that narrow or block blood vessels. As a result, individuals are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke.

According to a recent study, people with diabetes can remain at an elevated risk of heart disease even with well-controlled blood glucose levels.

The researchers also state that a person can improve their coronary health by reducing their cholesterol levels.

Doctors can measure a person’s cholesterol levels using a blood test.

According to the AHA, anyone over the age of 20 years should get a cholesterol test every 4–6 years. People at higher risk, such as those who have had a heart attack, should get checked more frequently.

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) suggest the following cholesterol levels are healthy for adults:

  • Total cholesterol: 125–200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl)
  • Non-HDL cholesterol: less than 130 mg/dl
  • LDL cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dl
  • Total HDL cholesterol: The healthy level varies by sex: for biological males, it is 40 mg/dl or higher, and for biological females, it is 50 mg/dl or higher.

Recommendations state that people over the age of 20 years get their cholesterol levels checked at least every 4–6 years.

Those with increased risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, may wish to speak with their doctor about checking their cholesterol more frequently.

To check a person’s cholesterol levels, a healthcare professional will take a blood sample. A clinician can then analyze the blood and send the results to the person or their doctor, who can explain the findings and discuss any required strategies to manage levels.

If interventions, such as changes to diet or exercise, do not improve cholesterol levels, a doctor may recommend a person take cholesterol-lowering medication.

Diet may play a role in helping control cholesterol.

According to an older study, when researchers provided people with a controlled diet that reduced saturated fats and included certain healthy foods, such as nuts, LDL cholesterol levels decreased by 22–33% across 1 month.

This study also found that those receiving dietary advice but not a controlled diet for 6 months experienced an average 15% decrease in their LDL cholesterol levels.

The authors suggested that a person could sustainably reduce their cholesterol by 10% through diet control.

To achieve this, health experts generally recommend consuming a diet rich in whole foods and fiber, such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, seeds, and whole grains. Some suggestions include:

  • avocado
  • barley or whole oats
  • flax seed
  • soybeans
  • sauerkraut
  • blueberries
  • salmon

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) add that a person can also eat more:

  • low fat dairy
  • beans
  • foods higher in unsaturated fats, such as olive oil or nuts

A person living with diabetes who is trying to control their cholesterol should avoid certain types of food, including those with added salt or sugar. They should also avoid foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat.

The NLM also suggest avoiding foods that come from animal sources because they are often higher in saturated fat and cholesterol. They recommend consuming no more than 200 mg of cholesterol per day in the diet.

Exercise plays a vital role in keeping a person healthy.

The American Diabetes Association recommend that people with diabetes exercise most days of the week. This could involve a brisk, 30-minute walk, 5 days per week.

The CDC recommend similar exercise goals. They indicate a person should engage in at least some physical activity every day, such as taking the stairs at work instead of an elevator. They also recommend a person perform 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

Exercise is a suitable way of not only lowering LDL but increasing HDL.

To reduce the likelihood of heart disease, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommend that people quit smoking and monitor their blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels.

In addition, the NLM suggest reducing or eliminating alcohol from a person’s diet to help control cholesterol levels.

The CDC agree with this advice, recommending that males have no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day while females should have no more than 1.

Diabetes often increases LDL “bad” cholesterol levels in a person’s body while lowering HDL “good” cholesterol levels.

Controlling cholesterol levels plays a crucial role in reducing a person’s risk of heart disease.

With this in mind, people may wish to consider eating foods high in fiber and low in processed sugar, salt, and saturated fat. They should also exercise regularly to help reduce their cholesterol levels.

If preventive steps do not lower a person’s cholesterol levels, they can speak with their doctor about alternative options.