Follow a balanced diet, keep active and avoid excess alcohol; this is just some of the advice given to help keep your cholesterol at a healthy level. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple, and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that over 90 million adults in the United States are living with high cholesterol, there are clearly some aspects of our lives that have a significant impact on our cholesterol levels that are either out of our control or we simply might not be aware of - both genetic and lifestyle.
It’s important to know that high cholesterol doesn’t always show obvious signs and symptoms so keeping an eye on your cholesterol levels is always a good idea.
9 Causes Of High Cholesterol
1. Poor nutrition
Cholesterol is naturally produced in our bodies, it is also present in certain foods.
Eating a diet that is high in processed foods, trans fats, red meat and full-fat dairy products on a regular basis may increase your blood cholesterol levels.
The cholesterol that we find in foods has a limited impact on our blood cholesterol, however, it is still important to maintain an awareness around the effects that certain foods may have on your total cholesterol levels.
You should aim to incorporate healthy fats into your diet, such as those found in nuts, avocados and oily fish. Try to limit alcoholic drinks as they can have a negative impact on your cholesterol levels, and aim to have at least 1-2 meat free days a week.
The thought of making dietary changes may be daunting but the long term effects will always outweigh the short term upheaval.
Read our latest article: 12 Foods To Lower Cholesterol to learn more about the best foods to eat if you have high cholesterol.
In sum: Poor nutrition is one of the leading causes of high cholesterol. Cutting down on saturated fat, cutting out trans fats and incorporating healthy fats in your diet can have a significant impact on your cholesterol levels, and overall heart health.
2. A Sedentary Lifestyle
A sedentary lifestyle can increase your cholesterol levels for a number of reasons.
Firstly, a sedentary lifestyle promotes the production of small dense LDL particles, which pose a higher risk for cardiovascular disease than the larger ‘spongy’ LDL particles. Exercise helps to promote the ‘good’ type of cholesterol and optimize the transportation of cholesterol around the body.
Secondly, regular exercise is important for the transportation of cholesterol from our bodies. When we exercise, our body is better able to break down and expel excess LDL cholesterol.
If you don’t exercise on a regular basis, it makes it easier for LDL cholesterol or bad cholesterol to lodge itself in the artery walls. In contrast, if you do exercise on a regular basis, it promotes the production of HDL cholesterol or good cholesterol which has a protective effect on your cardiovascular health.
In sum: A sedentary lifestyle isn’t just bad for your cholesterol levels, it doesn’t exactly work wonders for any aspect of your health. Try to get moving on a regular basis to better all aspects of your health.
Being overweight and obese are a significant risk factor for high cholesterol and a situation wherby you have high cholesterol and you are significantly overweight or obese are often interconnected.
One of the biggest widespread health concerns at the present moment is the epidemic of obesity, especially in children.
It has been shown in a number of studies that cardiovascular issues and high cholesterol are starting to affect the younger generations, especially those who are in their 20s.
For this reason, it is recommended that the public seek out routine cholesterol testing from the age of twenty years old and return for repeat screening every 4-6 years, in the absence of a family history.
If you have a BMI that is above thirty, a waist that is above 40 inches in men or 35 inches in women, you are at a greater risk of developing high cholesterol (compared to those with a lower BMI and waist measurement).
Excess weight causes triglycerides to rise in the blood and decreases the level of HDL (high density lipoprotein) in the blood. High triglycerides and low HDL is not good for your health, especially in terms of lowering and maintaining cholesterol levels, if that is your goal.
If you are overweight or obese, there is often more pressure on the body to work harder and pump blood around the body, than if you were a normal weight.
In sum: The incidence of obesity is increasing rapidly in the United States and further afield. If you have a BMI that is over 30, start looking at different techniques that you can implement to lose weight in a healthy way.
4. Excessive alcohol use
Alcohol can significantly raise your cholesterol levels in a couple of different ways.
Firstly, alcohol more often than not contains excess glucose and carbohydrates, which, when we drink more than we should, are often stored as triglycerides.
Secondly, alcohol is a depressant, if you drink alcohol to excess, you may experience a hangover. Hangovers generally involve craving fatty and sugary foods.
Alcohol is processed in the liver and cholesterol is produced in the liver. The effect that alcohol will have on your cholesterol levels depend on how often and how much alcohol you drink, it also depends on your drink of choice.
In sum: Alcohol may have a significant impact on your health, especially if you drink alcohol on a regular basis, or if you binge drink.
5. Smoking cigarettes
If you’re a smoker and you’re reading this article, we only have one message for you and that is to quit smoking.
There is nothing to be gained from smoking cigarettes, there are no benefits for your health now or in the future, smoking cigarettes or other tobacco containing products affects all aspects of your health, and your cholesterol levels are no different.
Smoking is known to damage blood vessels which has a negative knock-on effect on your overall health. Smoking is more likely to decrease the effectiveness of blood circulation which will make any transportation, whether it’s HDL or LDL decrease. Smoking, because it damages the walls of your blood vessels may impair HDL’s ability to transport excess lipids from the body.
In sum: Smoking lowers your levels of HDL cholesterol, which is necessary for protecting your cardiovascular health.
If you have diabetes, you’re at a greater risk to have higher cholesterol levels.
Diabetes refers to excess levels of glucose (a sugar) in the blood with poor control from the hormone insulin. High cholesterol refers to excess lipids in the blood.
It is recommended that those who are living with diabetes regularly check their cholesterol levels while checking their blood glucose levels.
Diabetes and high cholesterol often occur concurrently. If you are eating a diet that is high in sugars and fats, it is more likely that you will develop diabetes. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels may contribute to higher levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as lower levels of HDL cholesterol in the blood.
In sum: If you are living with diabetes, you are at a higher risk of having high cholesterol. If you have diabetes, ensure that you are regularly checking your cholesterol levels as well as your blood sugar levels.
7. Family history
A family history of high cholesterol may have an impact on your cholesterol levels.
There are two ways that this may happen:
Firstly, if you have a family member who has high cholesterol, there is an increased risk that you may have high cholesterol levels due to following a similar lifestyle, i.e. you, like your other family members may have a sedentary lifestyle, you may follow a poor diet or you may drink alcohol to excess or smoke cigarettes like other family members do. Your environment has an impact on all aspects of your health, learned behaviours from your family members may have a significant impact on your overall health.
Secondly, you may suffer from a genetic condition, familial hypercholesterolemia is one example. This condition is caused by a gene defect and it means that you may have an increased level of LDL cholesterol in the blood. This condition is very rare, with 1 in 300 people on average being affected.
In sum: A family history of high cholesterol increases your risk of living with high cholesterol.
8. Chronic stress
It has been shown on a number of occasions that there is a connection between high stress and high cholesterol.
The mechanisms behind why stress affects cholesterol isn’t fully understood however it has been illustrated in one study that the majority of people self-reported on-going stress were also living with high cholesterol.
There are two hypotheses for these findings:
There is a connection between the release of cortisol and adrenaline, and high levels of cholesterol in the blood. It has been hypothesized that those living with chronic stress will have higher cholesterol levels due to the constant supply of cortisol and adrenaline that is being released from the adrenal glands.
Have you ever had an insatiable appetite before sitting an exam, a big meeting or after a really long stressful day? Sometimes when we’re feeling overwhelmed with stress, we experience the urge to comfort eat. Chronic stress may have you reaching for the wrong types of food if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
In sum: Monitoring your stress levels may make it easier to better your health in a number of ways. The knock on effect of your mood will have an unlimited impact on everything from your nutrition to your motivation to exercise and your overall sense of wellbeing.
From the age of 20 years old, our cholesterol levels begin to steadily increase.
This natural increase begins to plateau in men between the ages of 50 and 60. The steady incline begins to settle between the ages of 60 and 70 in women.
From the age of 20, you should get your cholesterol checked every 4-6 years, if there is no family history or other significant risk factors at play.
In sum: As we age, our cholesterol levels naturally rise. This doesn’t always mean there’s going to be an overall negative impact on your health but it’s something that you need to keep a close eye on.
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