Why high Cholesterol is bad for your health?

Last updated on March 8th, 2023 at 01:23 pm

10 minutes read.     

image showing normal blood vessels, abnormal and blocked arteries

The biggest influence on blood cholesterol levels is the mix of saturated and trans fats and carbohydrates in your diet—not the amount of cholesterol you eat from food.

High cholesterol is associated with many health problems like cardiovascular diseases.  But it can also happen as a result of other diseases, especially ones that trigger inflammation in your body (like lupus).

People with high cholesterol often develop high blood pressure as well.

Your body uses cholesterol as the starting point to make estrogen, testosterone, vitamin D, and other vital compounds. (1,2)

Because high cholesterol doesn’t normally present any significant symptoms on time many people may high cholesterol without knowing until it develops complications.

The key to lowering high cholesterol is to choose to live a healthy lifestyle by limiting the amount of white sugar, saturated, and trans-fat you consume through highly processed food.

Smoking and genetic factors may also contribute.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 94 million U.S. adults ages 20 or older have what could be considered borderline high cholesterol. (3) And other developed countries may likely have similar statistics.

 In this article, I will review to you everything you need to know about high cholesterol.

Feel free to skip ahead:

What is high cholesterol?

Diagnosis , Symptoms

Causes , Risk factors

Cholesterol vs LDL

Cholesterol vs HDL

Cholesterol vs Triglycerides

Normal vs high cholesterol

Cholesterol Complications


How to prevent and lower cholesterol

FAQ , Conclusion

What’s cholesterol?

In simple terms, Cholesterol is a type of lipid. It’s a waxy, fat-like substance that your liver produces naturally. It’s vital for the formation of cell membranes, certain hormones, and vitamin D.

Cholesterol doesn’t dissolve in water, so it can’t travel through your blood on its own. To help transport cholesterol, your liver produces lipoproteins.

Lipoprotein which is made up of fat and protein transports cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and Triglyceride throughout the bloodstream to different parts of the body. (4, 5)

Cholesterol itself isn’t bad. It’s actually vital for you to live. But too much cholesterol can be harmful.

Your liver makes enough cholesterol to support your body’s needs. But you also get extra cholesterol from the foods you eat. Your body has a system for getting rid of excess cholesterol.

But sometimes, that system doesn’t work as well as it should or becomes overloaded. As a result, you can have extra cholesterol circulating in your blood. And that’s when you might run into trouble.

What is high cholesterol?

High cholesterol is a condition in which you have too many lipids (fats) in your blood. It’s also called hyperlipidemia or hypercholesterolemia.

Your body needs just the right amount of lipids to function. If you have too many lipids, your body can’t use them all. The extra lipids start to build up in your arteries. They combine with other substances in your blood to form plaque (fatty deposits).

This plaque might not cause any problems for years, but over time, the plaque silently gets bigger and bigger within your arteries. This is why untreated high cholesterol is dangerous.

Those extra lipids in your blood help make the plaque bigger without you even knowing it.  (6, 7)


How is high cholesterol diagnosed?

The only way to know you have high cholesterol is through a blood test. A blood test called a lipid panel/lipid profile tells you how many lipids are circulating in your blood.

What is considered high cholesterol depends on your age, sex, and history of heart disease. (8)


What are the symptoms of high cholesterol?

High cholesterol doesn’t cause any symptoms for most people. You could be a marathon runner and have high cholesterol. You won’t start to feel any symptoms until the high cholesterol causes other problems in your body. (8)


What are the Causes of high cholesterol?

Lifestyle factors and genetics both play a role in causing high cholesterol. Lifestyle factors include:

1. Smoking and tobacco use: Smoking lowers your “good cholesterol” (HDL) and raises your “bad cholesterol” (LDL)

2. Being under a lot of stress: Stress triggers hormonal changes that cause your body to produce cholesterol.

3. Drinking alcohol: Too much alcohol in your body can raise your total cholesterol.

4. Not moving around enough: Physical activity like aerobic exercise improves your cholesterol numbers. If you have a desk job or sit a lot in your free time, your body won’t produce enough “good cholesterol.”

5. Diet: Some foods may raise or lower your cholesterol. Sometimes healthcare providers will recommend dietary changes or a visit with a nutritionist to discuss your diet. (9,10, 11, 12)

Risk factors

What are the risk factors of high cholesterol?

You may be at a higher risk of developing high cholesterol if you:

  • are living with obesity
  • consume a lot of saturated and trans fats, like those found in fast food
  • have limited physical activity
  • smoke tobacco products
  • have a family history of high cholesterol
  • have diabetes, kidney disease, or hypothyroidism
  • People of all ages, genders, and ethnicities can have high cholesterol.

Some medical problems may also increase your risk of high blood cholesterol.

Examples include:

  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

People with chronic kidney disease (CKD) face a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease. That’s because CKD causes plaque to build up more quickly in their arteries.

People with early-stage CKD are more likely to die from heart disease than from kidney disease.

CKD causes you to have more triglycerides (a type of fat) in your blood. It also causes you to have more very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol. VLDLs are particles that carry triglycerides.

Meanwhile, CKD lowers your “good cholesterol” (HDL) levels and prevents your HDLs from working as they should. CKD also changes the structure of your “bad cholesterol” (LDL) particles so they cause more harm. (13, 14,15)

  • HIV

People with HIV are nearly twice as likely as people without HIV to have a heart attack or stroke. Researchers used to think this higher risk came from HIV medications (antiretroviral therapy).

They believed those medications raised a person’s cholesterol. But newer research shows the culprit is actually a person’s immune system.

Even if your HIV is managed, your immune system may still be activated. This puts your body in a state of chronic inflammation. This inflammation triggers plaque buildup and atherosclerosis.

The good news is that people with HIV are living longer. But that means more research needs to explore how chronic diseases like heart disease affect them. (16,17, 18)

  • Thyroid disease

Having thyroid disease can affect your cholesterol levels. That’s because the thyroid hormone influences how your body processes lipids (fats). The impact depends on what kind of thyroid disease you have.

Hyperthyroidism: This condition causes your body to make too much thyroid hormone. Medications used to treat this condition can raise your cholesterol levels (total, LDL, and HDL).

If you’re being treated for hyperthyroidism, talk with your healthcare provider about how to manage your cholesterol.

Hypothyroidism: This condition causes your body to make too little thyroid hormone. It also causes you to have higher cholesterol levels.

In this case, treatment for thyroid disease lowers your cholesterol levels. But you may still need to take statins to get your cholesterol in the ideal range. Your provider will discuss what’s best for your individual case.(19,20,21)

Researchers continue to explore the links between thyroid disease and heart disease. Some studies show that thyroid disease can cause heart problems unrelated to cholesterol or plaque buildup.

 For example, both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism may raise a person’s risk of heart failure.(22)

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People with lupus usually have higher levels of “bad cholesterol” (LDL, VLDL) and triglycerides. They also have lower levels of “good cholesterol” (HDL).

People who have active lupus face a greater risk of high cholesterol compared with those who have well-managed (quiet) lupus.

Lupus raises your risk of developing coronary artery disease. That’s because lupus causes your body to be in a state of chronic inflammation. This inflammation leads to faster plaque buildup in your arteries. (23,24, 25)

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People with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) face a higher risk of heart disease. This risk goes up more as they age. PCOS raises the risk of many heart disease risk factors, including diabetes and high blood pressure.

People with PCOS are more likely to have high “bad cholesterol” (LDL) levels and low “good cholesterol” (HDL) levels.(26,27,28)

  • Diabetes mellitus

Diabetes mellitus (Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes) doubles your risk for coronary artery disease and peripheral artery disease. Diabetes is linked with lower levels of HDLs and higher levels of triglycerides and LDLs

About 7 out of 10 people with Type 2 diabetes are diagnosed with diabetes-related dyslipidemia. This means they have high triglyceride levels, high “small dense” LDL levels, and low HDL levels. “Small dense”

LDL is a specific type of cholesterol protein that can easily enter your artery wall and cause damage. Having too many small dense LDLs in your blood can cause plaque to grow.

Researchers continue to explore how diabetes and heart disease relate to each other. (29,30,31,32)

Cholesterol vs LDL

LDL cholesterol is often called “bad cholesterol.” It carries cholesterol to your arteries. If your levels of LDL cholesterol are too high, it can build up on the walls of your arteries.

This buildup is also known as cholesterol plaque. This plaque can narrow your arteries, limit your blood flow, and raise your risk of blood clots. If a blood clot blocks an artery in your heart or brain, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Cholesterol vs HDL

HDL cholesterol is sometimes called “good cholesterol.” It helps return LDL cholesterol to your liver to be removed from your body. This helps prevent cholesterol plaque from building up in your arteries.

When you have healthy levels of HDL cholesterol, it can help lower your risk of blood clots, heart disease, and stroke.

Cholesterol vs Triglycerides

Triglycerides are another type of lipid. They’re different from cholesterol. While your body uses cholesterol to build cells and certain hormones, it uses triglycerides as a source of energy.

When you eat more calories than your body can use right away, it converts those calories into triglycerides. It stores triglycerides in your fat cells. It also uses lipoproteins to circulate triglycerides through your bloodstream.

If you regularly eat more calories than your body can use, your triglyceride levels may become too high. This can raise your risk of several health problems, including heart disease and stroke.

Your doctor can use a simple blood test to measure your triglyceride level, as well as your cholesterol levels.

Normal vs high cholesterol

What is the meaning of blood cholesterol number?

Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

When you go to a health care professional to get your cholesterol checked, this test (also called a lipid panel or lipid profile) will usually check the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in your body.

If you are an adult or child, high cholesterol is having total cholesterol above 200 mg/dL. (8, 2) This condition is also called hyperlipidemia.

Let’s find out what a healthy level of cholesterol looks like.

Here’s what’s considered normal or optimal blood cholesterol:

Optimal Cholesterol Levels are;

  • Total cholesterol: About 150 mg/dL
  • LDL (“bad”) cholesterol:         About 100 mg/dL
  • HDL (“good”) cholesterol: At least 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL

High Cholesterol Complications

What problem does high cholesterol cause?

High cholesterol raises your risk of other medical conditions depending on which blood vessels are clogged. For example:

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD)

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is also called coronary heart disease (CHD) or ischemic heart disease.

This is what most people mean when they use the term “heart disease.” CAD is the most common form of heart disease in the U.S. and the leading cause of death.

CAD happens when atherosclerosis affects your coronary arteries. These are the blood vessels that carry blood to your heart.

When your heart doesn’t get enough blood, it gets weaker and stops working as it should. CAD can lead to a heart attack or heart failure.

Cholesterol plaque in artery with Human heart anatomy.

What many people don’t know is that CAD can affect younger people. In fact, about 1 in 5 people who die from CAD are under the age of 65.

That’s why it’s important to get your cholesterol checked to start at a young age. Over time, plaque can silently build up in your coronary arteries.

 Many people don’t realize it’s happening until they get chest pain (angina) or another sign of a heart attack.

  • Carotid artery disease

When atherosclerosis affects your carotid arteries, it’s called carotid artery disease. Your carotid arteries carry blood to the large, front part of your brain. When plaque narrows these arteries, your brain can’t get enough oxygen-rich blood.

Carotid artery disease can lead to a transient ischemic attack (TIA or “mini-stroke”) or a stroke.

  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD)

When atherosclerosis affects the arteries in your legs or arms, it’s called peripheral artery disease (PAD).

The arteries in your legs and arms are “peripheral” because they’re away from your heart and the center of your body. PAD is more common in your legs but can also happen in your arms.

PAD is dangerous because it often causes no symptoms. You might finally start to feel symptoms when a peripheral artery is at least 60% blocked. A key symptom is intermittent claudication.

This is a leg cramp that starts up when you’re moving around but then stops when you rest. It’s a sign of reduced blood flow caused by the growing plaque in your artery.

PAD can cause major problems in your legs and feet but also elsewhere in your body.

That’s because all your blood vessels are connected through your cardiovascular system. So, plaque buildup in one area slows down your whole network of “pipes.”

PAD isn’t the same as coronary artery disease (CAD), but the two conditions are related. People with one condition are likely to have the other one, too. Both PAD and CAD have many of the same risk factors.

  • High blood pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol are linked. Cholesterol plaque and calcium cause your arteries to become hard and narrow.

blocked arteries

So, your heart has to strain much harder to pump blood through them. As a result, your blood pressure becomes too high.

High blood pressure and high cholesterol are two of the biggest causes of heart disease. In the U.S., about 1 in 3 adults have high blood pressure, and about 1 in 3 adults have high cholesterol.

For more than half of the adults in each group, treatment isn’t helping enough, or else they’re not using any treatment. (33, 34, 35, 36)


Medications from your healthcare provider can help a lot, but lifestyle changes are the key lower and maintaining normal blood cholesterol.

Even when the complications have developed already and you are placed on certain medication it’s also important you make a lifestyle shift to help the medication work fast. (8)

How to prevent and lower blood cholesterol naturally

 Some of the lifestyle changes you need to make to prevent or lower your blood cholesterol include:

1.Eat less saturated fat and trans fat: Fast food can contain high amounts of both. But even foods at formal restaurants can be high in saturated fat depending on how they’re cooked.

2. Eat fewer fried foods and processed foods: These include prepackaged desserts and snacks.

3. Eat less sodium (salt): Some foods have hidden salt. It’s important to read labels in the store. Some restaurants may be able to share nutrition information for menu items.

4. Lower your intake of white sugar-containing food, snacks, and drinks (both soft drinks and alcohol contain high sugar the only difference is the way they are processed)

5. Stop smoking and using tobacco products: Smoking is a leading risk factor for heart disease and blood vessel problems.

FAQ  (Frequently Asked Questions)

How does high cholesterol affect my body?

Over time, high cholesterol leads to plaque buildup inside your blood vessels. This plaque buildup is called atherosclerosis. People with atherosclerosis face a higher risk of many different medical conditions.

That’s because your blood vessels do important work all throughout your body. So when there’s a problem in one of your blood vessels, there’s a ripple effect.

You can think of your blood vessels as a complex network of pipes that keep blood flowing through your body. Plaque is like the gunk that clogs your pipes at home and slows down your shower drain.

Plaque sticks to the inner walls of your blood vessels and limits how much blood can flow through. (37,8,38)

When you have high cholesterol, you have plaque forming inside your blood vessels. The longer you go without treatment, the bigger the plaque gets.

 As the plaque gets bigger, your blood vessels become narrowed or blocked. Like a partly clogged drain, your blood vessels may still work for a long time. But they won’t work as efficiently as they should.


In simple terms, Cholesterol is a type of lipid. It’s a waxy, fat-like substance that your liver produces naturally. It’s vital for the formation of cell membranes, certain hormones, and vitamin D.

High cholesterol is associated with many health problems like cardiovascular diseases.  But it can also happen as a result of other diseases, especially ones that trigger inflammation in your body (like lupus).

The biggest influence on blood cholesterol levels is the mix of saturated and trans fats and carbohydrates in your diet—not the amount of cholesterol you eat from food.

The key to lowering high cholesterol is to choose to live a healthy lifestyle by limiting the amount of white sugar, saturated, and trans-fat you consume through highly processed food.

I hope you get the value worth your time. I appreciate the time you spend with me. Leave a comment if you like this post. Do you have any questions as regards this topic I didn’t touch here? Feel free to share with me in the comment section.


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