High cholesterol isn’t just the result of eating too much fast food and not taking care of yourself. It’s a little more complicated than that, and there are many reasons why your LDL cholesterol might be on the high side.
Cholesterol is made by the liver and used by the body to build cells and make sex hormones like testosterone and vitamins like vitamin D. It has a pretty bad reputation, but your body needs it to function normally.
The problem is that your liver already makes enough cholesterol, and when you consume additional cholesterol through animal sources (humans aren’t the only ones who produce this substance), it can build up and cause harm.
Cholesterol is not deadly on its own, but it is a risk factor, and so it could increase your chances of developing heart disease.
If you have other risk factors as well (smoking, genetic conditions), there’s an even greater chance that you will develop heart disease and suffer from strokes and heart attacks.
It’s often assumed that high cholesterol is only a problem for older people, but you can have high cholesterol at any age, and there are many reasons it can form, including:
Diet is the main cause of high cholesterol. If you subsist on a diet rich in saturated fats, it means you’re introducing more of this substance to your body where it can build up and cause harm.
Most—but not all—cholesterol comes from animal sources, including meat, skin, fat, cream, butter, and cheese. You’ll also find harmful trans fats in many processed foods and fast foods.
Swapping saturated fats for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can remedy this issue and balance your cholesterol levels.
If you’re taking medication for HIV/AIDS, high blood pressure, acne, cancer, or heart problems, there is a chance your cholesterol levels will be affected. The same is true for medications prescribed after organ transplants.
As above, make sure you regularly check your cholesterol levels if you’re taking these medications, especially if you have any other risk factors.
Excessive alcohol consumption can increase your cholesterol, as can smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. These habits are also risk factors for a host of other chronic diseases, including many types of cancer.
Familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited condition that changes the way the body processes cholesterol. It is present from birth but usually doesn’t appear until later in life.
If you have familial hypercholesterolemia, you may have dangerously high levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood, hardening and narrowing your arteries. This condition is thought to be more common in French Canadians, Ashkenazi Jews, and Lebanese, and it often leads to heart attacks before the age of 50.
In severe cases, it can cause heart attacks before the age of 20. When diagnosed early, this genetic condition can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes designed to reduce levels of bad cholesterol.