What Caused My High Cholesterol?

High income. High society. High-rise living. These are some of the things you may aspire to in life. High cholesterol, however, is probably not one of them. If you’ve been told that your cholesterol levels are above normal, you’ll probably want to know why.

What is a high cholesterol level? In adults, it’s a total cholesterol reading of 240 mg/dL and above. An LDL cholesterol (what we know as the “bad cholesterol”) reading between 100-129 mg/dL is considered “near optimal,” while a level below 100 mg/dL is considered optimal. HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”) should be kept at a level of 60 mg/dL or above.1

While high total and LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol (i.e. dyslipidemia) may not produce symptoms, unhealthy cholesterol levels can put a person at increased risk for coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke.

How Did This Happen?

Some of the causes of elevated cholesterol levels include:2

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Unhealthy dietary pattern
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Tobacco smoking

If you have one or more of these issues, it can often be a challenge to get cholesterol levels under control.

Genetics

Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a genetic condition that can cause high cholesterol. FH can severely elevate low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and often goes undetected until a serious medical event occurs (heart attack, stroke, or premature death).3 One in every 500 people have FH, and without treatment it can cause approximately 85% of men and 50% of women to experience a heart attack, stroke, or cardiac arrest before age 65.3

Obesity

Simply put, obesity is when you have too much body fat, which can put you at risk for high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) and triglyceride levels (hypertriglyceridemia). Obesity can also lower HDL cholesterol, contributing further to dyslipidemia risk. Interestingly, eating foods with high dietary cholesterol such as eggs and shrimp have little impact on circulating levels of cholesterol for the majority of individuals; it is the consumption of foods high in saturated and Trans fats (like butter, meat, and hydrogenated vegetable oils) that is associated with elevated levels of LDL cholesterol.4 In addition to consuming foods that contain saturated and Trans fats, many individuals lead sedentary lifestyles, which further increases the risk of hypercholesterolemia.

Other Health Conditions

Several health conditions can be secondary causes of high cholesterol. They include:2

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Kidney problems
  • Liver problems

Medications such as steroid hormones, antidepressants, beta blockers, and diuretics can also raise cholesterol levels.2

Turning the Tide on High Cholesterol

Lifestyle changes can help put a dent in high cholesterol levels. These include:5

  • Smoking cessation
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a cardio-friendly diet (such as the Mediterranean diet)
  • Exercising regularly

Check with your healthcare practitioner to see what approach is right for you. By partnering with a practitioner and making strategic lifestyle adjustments, and taking medication if needed, you can optimize your cholesterol levels and help reduce the risk of complications and cardiovascular events associated with unhealthy blood fats.

 

References:

  1. ATP III Guidelines At-A-Glance Quick Desk Reference. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/guidelines/atglance.pdf. Accessed April 27, 2018.
  2. Heart UK: The Cholesterol Charity. What can cause high cholesterol? https://heartuk.org.uk/health-and-high-cholesterol/what-causes-high-cholesterol. Accessed April 6, 2018.
  3. Harvard Health Publishing. When high cholesterol is a family affair. Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/when-high-cholesterol-is-a-family-affair. Accessed March 26, 2018.
  4. MD. Cholesterol and Obesity. http://www.laparoscopic.md/bariatric/health/cholesterol. Accessed April 3, 2018.
  5. Heart UK: The Cholesterol Charity. Healthy lifestyle. https://heartuk.org.uk/cholesterol-and-diet/healthy-eating. Accessed April 13, 2018.

 

Submitted by the Metagenics Marketing Team

 

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