What Causes High Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that’s present in every cell in the body and is required to produce vitamin D, hormones, and digestive substances. While cholesterol is essential for the body to function, your body creates all of the cholesterol that it requires.

High cholesterol is a condition that occurs when cholesterol levels in the blood are elevated. 28 million adults in the U.S. have high cholesterol, which is defined as cholesterol levels that are higher than 240 mg/dL. Unfortunately, high cholesterol increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and atherosclerosis (the narrowing of the arteries), among other serious conditions. 

Understanding what causes high cholesterol can help you prevent this common condition. The main causes of high cholesterol include:

A High-Fat Diet

Consuming a diet high in cholesterol, trans fats, and/or saturated fats increases your risk of developing high cholesterol. Cholesterol is found in cheese, meats, and other foods that are derived from animals. Saturated fats are around in certain meats, dairy products, baked goods, deep-fried foods, processed foods, and chocolate. Trans fats are found in some processed foods and fried foods. 

Physical Inactivity

Physical activity is an important component of any healthy lifestyle. Together with an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity can cause high cholesterol. The American Heart Association states that a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week is sufficient to help lower cholesterol levels. Plus, regular physical activity will help you maintain a healthy weight.  


Smoking and vaping both lower levels of the good cholesterol in the body, known as HDL cholesterol. Quitting smoking or vaping can increase your HDL cholesterol levels and lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which will reduce your risk of developing high cholesterol. 

Underlying Health Conditions and Medications

Certain health conditions can increase your risk of developing high cholesterol. These include:

  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • An underactive thyroid gland
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Pregnancy

There are also certain medications that can increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol, including progestins, corticosteroids, and anabolic steroids. 

Receiving ongoing medical care will ensure that your cholesterol levels are monitored. Your doctor can also offer advice on how to keep your cholesterol levels in check. To speak with one of the experienced doctors at Family Medical Centers, schedule an appointment today!

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