What causes high cholesterol?

Obesity / Risk Involved /HLL

The main causes of high cholesterol relate to your lifestyle and include:

  • Diet: A diet high in saturated and trans fats causes your bad cholesterol level to rise
  • Physical inactivity: Regular exercise helps you lose weight, lowers triglycerides, and raises HDL (good ) cholesterol
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking raises LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol17
  • Overweight and obesity: Being overweight or obese tends to increase your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol.18 Having fat in the belly area (a waistline above 35 inches) is also linked to high cholesterol and triglycerides.19

Other factors outside of your control that affect cholesterol levels are:

  • Older age: As you get older, your levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol rise
  • Heredity: High cholesterol can run in families. About 1 in 500 Americans have a type of inherited high cholesterol called familial hypercholesterolemia. This leads to very high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and a very high risk of having a heart attack at a young age.

How does my diet affect my cholesterol and triglyceride levels?

Eating too much saturated fat and trans fats increases your bad cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found mainly in meat and dairy products. Trans fats are made through a chemical process called hydrogenation, which essentially turns healthier fats into unhealthy ones. Trans fats are found in fried foods, some margarines, baked goods (e.g., cookies and doughnuts), and snack foods. Since January 2006, trans fats are listed on food labels; foods that list “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils” contain trans fats.

Your triglycerides rise when you overeat or drink too much alcohol; the excess calories are converted into triglycerides to be stored as fat in the body. Some research suggests that a very high carbohydrate diet (more than 60% of total daily calories) may cause your triglyceride level to go up and your HDL (good) cholesterol to fall. This does not seem to happen if the high-carb diet is also rich in fiber and monounsaturated fat (e.g., olive and sunflower oils) or part of a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise.20-23