Reaching a moderate weight may lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of certain cardiovascular conditions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that close to 94 million in the U.S. over 20 years old have high cholesterol.

A person can experience an increase in their blood cholesterol levels if they are overweight or have obesity. This is due to changes in the processes related to fat metabolism. Therefore, reaching and maintaining a moderate weight can help to decrease an individual’s cholesterol levels.

This article examines how high cholesterol is linked to obesity, how to lower cholesterol levels, and tips for reaching a moderate weight.

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To assess if an individual has high cholesterol, a physician needs to collect blood samples to check the amount of cholesterol present.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, physicians use the following levels to determine if an individual has desirable or high cholesterol:

  • Desirable: less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) of blood.
  • Borderline high: 200–239 mg/dl.
  • High: 240 mg/dl or more.

Cholesterol is essential for the body to work, although too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol can lead to a buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries. These fatty deposits can increase a person’s risk of developing conditions, such as atherosclerosis, heart attack, and peripheral arterial disease.

Risk factors for high cholesterol include:

  • being overweight or having obesity
  • smoking
  • having a family history of high cholesterol
  • living a sedentary lifestyle
  • having high blood pressure
  • being male older than 45 years old or female over 55 years old
  • having type 2 diabetes

A person with excess weight or obesity may also have higher LDL levels. LDL cholesterol changes how the body processes different forms of lipids, or fats. This includes cholesterol and triglycerides — another type of lipid found in the body made in the liver from free fatty acids and glucose, or sugar.

When an individual is overweight, the body produces more triglycerides. Abnormalities in lipid metabolism are common in people with obesity.

Maintaining a moderate weight also decreases a person’s risk of insulin resistance. This is where the body does not properly respond to the hormone insulin. This response increases the amount of free fatty acids in the liver, which increases triglyceride levels.

If a person has excess weight, they have higher levels of pro-inflammatory compounds. Some of these pro-inflammatory compounds change how the body regulates lipid metabolism. This can cause an increase in triglycerides, and therefore, blood cholesterol levels.

Read more about other factors affecting triglycerides levels here.

The first step an individual can take to lower cholesterol is reaching or maintaining a moderate weight. Reaching a moderate weight decreases triglycerides in the liver and the amount of cholesterol it makes.

Individuals who smoke tobacco products should also try to reduce and quit this habit. Smoking lowers the levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) — the good cholesterol. HDL usually protects against fatty buildup in the artery walls. However, smoking damages the arteries, and cholesterol collects in these areas.

Physicians may also prescribe a certain type of medication known as statins to lower cholesterol. Statins are the most commonly prescribed medication for reducing cholesterol levels.

Read more about statins and who should take them here.

A person who is overweight or has obesity can help reduce their blood cholesterol levels by reaching a moderate weight.

Some strategies include:

  • Eating a balanced diet: A diet full of fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, and lean meats.
  • Limiting foods that increase cholesterol: Avoid processed and fried foods, excess sugar, and saturated fat.
  • Considering serving sizes: When it comes to processed foods, it can help for individuals to decrease caloric consumption.
  • Limiting alcohol: Alcoholic beverages contain calories. Research associates alcohol consumption with weight gain.
  • Increasing physical activity: The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming, or cycling.

Everyone should regard eating well and exercising regularly as long-term habits. However, people can find it challenging to make big changes and incorporate them into their routine. Therefore, it is helpful for a person to make small changes and increase them over time.

For example, an individual could try exercising for 10–15 minutes twice a week for 2 months. After that, they could try increasing the length of time or the number of days per week.

Similarly, with diet, an example could be consuming dessert only 3 nights a week. After 2 months, a person could also try replacing one side dish with a small salad or some form of vegetables 5 days a week.

Making small changes and improving upon these over time increases their likelihood of becoming permanent habits.

Having high cholesterol does not usually cause any symptoms. To confirm their cholesterol levels, an individual will need a blood test that determines the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

Without treatment or any attempt to lower cholesterol, it can cause a buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. Over time, this causes the arteries to narrow, making it difficult for proper blood flow, which leads to heart disease.

If a person has any concerns about their cholesterol levels, they should make an appointment with their primary care physician.

High cholesterol levels increase the risk for various cardiovascular conditions, some of which are life threatening.

People who are overweight or have obesity can have an increase in their cholesterol levels. Therefore it is beneficial for individuals to reach or maintain a moderate weight. People can achieve this by eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly.