High cholesterol and weight: What to know
High cholesterol can affect anyone, regardless of their weight. However, having excess body weight can lead to increased cholesterol levels. Obesity and high cholesterol are both risk factors for cardiovascular health issues.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that the body needs to function correctly. The liver creates cholesterol, which the body uses to make cells, vitamins, and hormones. Certain foods also contain cholesterol.
Eating too many saturated or trans fats may raise cholesterol levels. Excess cholesterol may contribute to atherosclerosis, a narrowing and hardening of the arteries that can lead to chest pain, heart attack, and stroke.
In this article, we examine the link between high cholesterol and weight. We also look at the causes of high cholesterol and explain how to lower cholesterol levels.
Some people inherit high cholesterol, in which case, it is known as familial hypercholesterolemia.
However, people can take steps to prevent the other causes of high cholesterol, which include:
- eating a diet high in saturated and trans fats, sodium, added sugars, and processed foods
- smoking or exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke
- excess body weight
- a sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity
- metabolic syndrome, which is a collection of risk factors that may increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes
High cholesterol does not usually cause any symptoms. However, if people have very high levels, they may have fatty bumps on the skin and gray-white rings around the corneas of the eyes.
These symptoms are more common in people who have familial hypercholesterolemia.
A doctor can check cholesterol levels by performing a blood test known as a lipid profile. In some cases, they might ask the person to fast for 9–12 hours before taking the test.
A lipid profile reveals the levels of total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol in the body, as well as the levels of triglycerides, a type of fat.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood InstituteTrusted Source, doctors use the following ranges to determine whether a person’s cholesterol levels are high:
- desirable: less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl)
- borderline high: 200–239 mg/dl
- high: 240 mg/d or above
- optimal: less than 100 mg/dl
- close to or above optimal: 100–129 mg/dl
- borderline high: 130–159 mg/dl
- high: 160–189 mg/dl
- very high: 190 mg/dl or above
- protective against heart disease: 60 mg/dl and above
- medium risk: 40–59 mg/dl
- serious risk factor for heart disease: less than 40 mg/dl
Some people have risk factors that raise their likelihood of having high cholesterol levels, but many of these risk factors are modifiable. They include:
People of any age with a family history of high cholesterol or early heart disease may have an increased risk of high cholesterol.
Obesity is a risk factor for high cholesterol. Having excess body weight may increase LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol.
Smoking may increase the risk of high cholesterol. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke may cause increased deposition of cholesterol within the arteries, which can cause them to harden and raise the risk of heart disease.
Nicotine may also increase the risk of heart disease by causing the arteries to narrow.
Other risk factors for high cholesterol include:
- metabolic syndrome
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic inflammatory conditions, including psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis
- menopause before the age of 40 years
- preeclampsia during pregnancy
- a sedentary lifestyle