What Causes High Cholesterol and How Do You Treat It?


In medical terms, hyper = high, lipid = fat, and emia = blood. Put it all together and you have high levels of fat in your blood, which includes cholesterol and triglycerides.

Why hyperlipidemia is not so good…

Cholesterol and triglycerides are necessary fat molecules that are essential for health, but too much of them can create health conditions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cholesterol helps your body make hormones and build cells. Your body uses triglycerides for energy.

Too many of these fats lingering in your blood, puts you at risk for developing heart disease, stroke, and pancreatitis.

Your liver is your organ that creates cholesterol. There are two proteins, called lipoproteins, that carry cholesterol through your blood. They are:

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) aka “bad” cholesterol
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) aka “good” cholesterol

LDL cholesterol is the bad bunch of the group because it can be negatively affect your health whereas HDL cholesterol lowers your risk of developing heart disease and stroke by helping your liver remove the “bad” cholesterol.

Triglycerides aren’t cholesterol, but they are another fat that comes from the foods we eat. People that have hyperlipidemia often receive tests to determine their triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

According to the Society for Vascular Surgery, hyperlipidemia is more prevalent in people who:

Taking certain medications could also create an increase in cholesterol levels including:

Hyperlipidemia has two different subtypes:

Primary and secondary. The primary subtype is due to genetics, and the secondary type is caused by underlying concerns like an imbalanced diet or diabetes.

Hyperlipidemia doesn’t really have any symptoms. You may not realize you have it until you go through routine blood tests with your doc. In some cases, the first symptom may be a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke.

Cardiovascular conditions arise because cholesterol, triglycerides, and other fats can build up in your arteries. This causes your blood vessels to narrow, making it difficult for blood to circulate to your organs that need it.

Over time, too much of this buildup, (which is also referred to as plaque), can form a clot. If the clot breaks and stops blood flow to a portion of your heart, this results in a heart attack. If plaque blocks blood flow to a part of your brain, this can cause a stroke.

A blood test will determine if you have hyperlipidemia depending on where your cholesterol and triglyceride levels are. Tests are usually done after fasting overnight so that results are more accurate.

It’s recommended that men should start getting tested at 35 years old. Women should start getting tested at 45 years old. People who are at an increased risk of developing heart disease should start getting tested at 20 years old. Further recommendations include:

  • There’s no need to repeat the test for 5 years if your cholesterol levels are normal.
  • Try to get tested sooner if you’ve dealt with weight gain or recently changed your diet.
  • Try to test more frequently if you have a history of high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney conditions, heart disease, and other conditions.

According to the CDC, these are the desirable cholesterol and triglyceride levels:

Your doctor may suggest treatment depending on family history and personal risk factors if levels fall outside the desired range.

The first line of treatment includes making some lifestyle changes. You can try to:

  • Quit smoking. Smoking doesn’t raise cholesterol levels, but quitting may lower your risk of developing heart attacks and strokes.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Include less saturated fat and more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Exercise regularly. It may improve cholesterol levels and aid healthy weight management.

Medication may be prescribed based on age, weight, and other factors like having heart disease, diabetes, circulation conditions, or obesity.

If you have heart disease or if your LDL levels are 90 mg/dL or higher, you may be prescribed meds from the get-go.

You do you!

If experience weight discrimination or struggle with weight management, consider contacting a body-positive doctor that specializes in health at every size (HAES).

They can help you set realistic goals that meet your individual needs and personal health factors without putting a premium on weight talk. Cholesterol is complex!

Stocking up on heart-healthy foods is one of the main ways you can lower your lipid levels. The American Heart Association states that limiting your intake of saturated fat to less than 6 percent of your daily calories along with eliminating trans fat is beneficial.

Foods high in saturated fat and trans fat include:

  • red and processed meat
  • whole milk dairy products
  • fried foods
  • butter
  • tropical oils, including coconut and palm oil
  • commercially baked pastries, such as pastries, cookies, cakes, donuts, etc.

FYI: Coconut oil has properties that can raise your total cholesterol. But if you increase the percentage of HDL cholesterol (the “good” one), which is part of that total cholesterol, you may actually decrease your risk of developing heart disease. It’s all about moderation.

This way, the emphasis will be placed on nutritious foods like:

Many diets include these types of foods. The DASH diet, which is designed to stop hypertension, is a widely studied, and heart-healthy approach.

A study examined the DASH diet for its effects on cardiometabolic risk factors, including lipid profiles. One subject group followed the DASH diet for 10 weeks while the second group received education on healthy eating practices. The DASH diet group had significant improvements in:

  • LDL and HDL cholesterol
  • triglycerides
  • total cholesterol

Whether it’s taking your pup for a walk or going for a bike ride, getting in any physical activity can benefit your health.

The CDC recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense exercise per week. This can be divided up however you’d like, such as 30 minutes per day for 5 days. If you’re already a vigorous exerciser, you should aim for 75 minutes per week.

A research review indicated that duration, intensity, and volume all have an effect on blood lipids. Exercise improves HDL cholesterol levels the most. Intense, aerobic exercise has the greatest effect on LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Be sure to discuss exercise plans with your doc before you go all out. Sudden changes in your exercise could be dangerous for your health.

If lifestyle modifications don’t do the trick, some docs may recommend a [class of] lipid-lowering medications also referred to as statins.

A research review suggests using statins to treat hyperlipidemia for individuals who are 40 to 75 years old, have at least one risk factor of coronary heart disease (CHD), and a calculated 10-year cardiovascular disease risk of 10 percent.

Some side effects of statins include:

  • muscle pain
  • muscle conditions
  • musculoskeletal injury
  • liver injury
  • increased risk of developing diabetes

  • Hyperlipidemia occurs when you have elevated fat levels in your blood, which can result in cardiovascular conditions if left untreated.
  • High fat levels in the blood are more prevalent in people taking certain medications or who have certain genetic or lifestyle factors.
  • There aren’t any symptoms of hyperlipidemia, which is why regular blood tests are important.
  • Staying active and eating a diet low in saturated and trans fat can help balance fat in your blood.



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