Do you have high cholesterol but maintain a well-balanced diet? You aren’t alone.

It can be frustrating to feel like you’re doing everything right and still have trouble maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.

At iwi life, we know you prioritize your health and wellness. We’ve compiled this guide detailing what you need to know about high cholesterol, including the possible causes of high cholesterol, risk factors, and complications.

What Is High Cholesterol?

So, what is cholesterol, and what contributes to high cholesterol levels?

Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance that your body needs to build cells, vitamin D, and other hormones. Cholesterol even helps with food digestion. However, your body can only use a limited amount of cholesterol at a time.

Cholesterol is made by the body in the liver, but it also enters the body through some foods like meat and dairy products. Your body needs cholesterol to work properly, but it’s important to be aware of what causes high cholesterol and what can happen when there’s too much in your body.

High cholesterol can build up in your arteries and make you more susceptible to heart disease. When cholesterol levels are too high, fatty deposits can build up in your blood vessels and make it difficult for your blood to flow through your arteries.

What Can Cause High Cholesterol Besides Diet?

Unfortunately, you may be at risk for high cholesterol, even if you are eating the most well-balanced diet. There are certain factors that may contribute to high cholesterol. These include:

1. Obesity

Your weight can put you at risk for having high cholesterol, especially if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.

2. Lack of Exercise

Exercise can support proper levels of HDL, the “good cholesterol,” and may even work to keep bad cholesterol at bay.

Be aware of how much activity you are getting in the day and try to meet the recommended guidelines for your age.

3. Smoking

Cigarette smoking and vaping may contribute to lowering your good cholesterol, HDL. How often are you smoking? If you are a regular smoker, now might be the time to start cutting down. Aside from contributing to high cholesterol, smoking can also negatively impact your lung health, heart health, and oral health.

4. Alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can increase your total cholesterol level. Heavy drinking (defined as more than 7 drinks per week for women and more than 14 per week for men) can also contribute to liver or kidney disease, which contributes to further cholesterol challenges, as well as creating other health risks. It is largely beneficial to stay aware of how much alcohol you consume and how often.

5. Age

It’s much more common for people over the age of 40 to have high levels of “bad” cholesterol since your liver becomes less efficient at removing LDL cholesterol. This is one of the factors you cannot control, but continuing to maintain a healthy lifestyle as you grow older may help minimize this age-related risk.

6. Genetic Conditions

Another risk factor you can’t control is your family history and any genetic conditions you may have. Familial hypercholesterolemia is a genetic condition marked by high levels of cholesterol.

When high cholesterol runs in the family, it may mean you’re also more genetically predisposed.

Some of these cholesterol risk factors are within your control, such as weight, exercise, smoking, and drinking alcohol. Focus on the things you can control and make the necessary changes to help improve your wellness.

Always make sure to talk to your healthcare professional about your health factors, whether you might be at risk for high cholesterol, and what you can do about it.

How Do You Measure Cholesterol Levels?

blood test for checking cholesterol levels in humans

Your cholesterol levels are measured in a blood test conducted by your healthcare provider called a lipoprotein panel. This test gives you information on the different cholesterol levels in your body, such as:

  • Total cholesterol
  • Low-density lipoprotein, which is the main source of blockage in your arteries
  • High-density lipoprotein, which helps remove LDL cholesterol from your arteries
  • Triglycerides, another form of fat in your blood that can raise your risk for heart disease

What Are Symptoms of High Cholesterol?

Unfortunately, one of the main problems of high cholesterol is that it does not cause any symptoms.

In most cases, it only causes emergency events like a heart attack or a stroke. It can go unnoticed until a health emergency occurs.


Emergency events like this only happen when high cholesterol forms plaque in your arteries. Cholesterol can build up and clog the arteries, making it harder for blood to pass through. If a blood clot forms and becomes trapped in the artery, it could result in a stroke or heart attack.

The best way to know if your cholesterol is too high is to have a lipoprotein panel done. It’s important to get your cholesterol checked every couple of years after turning 20, especially if you have risk factors.

When Do You Need To See a Doctor for High Cholesterol?

Since there isn’t a way to know if you have high cholesterol, it’s important to get regularly screened by your doctor.

The National Lung, Heart, and Blood Institute (NLHBI) recommends that a person’s first cholesterol screening should be between the ages of 9 to 11 and then repeated every five years after that.

For men ages 45 to 65 and women ages 55 to 65, doctors recommend a test every one to two years. If you are over the age of 65, it’s recommended that you receive a cholesterol test annually.

What Are the Main Types of Cholesterol?

Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)

This is considered to be the “bad cholesterol” since it can build up in your arteries and increase your risk of complications like a heart attack or stroke.

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)

This form is known as the “good cholesterol” since it can bring LDL back to your liver for elimination.

Very Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL)

Another form of cholesterol that isn't talked about as often is known as VLDL, another type of "bad cholesterol" that carries triglycerides (a common fat) into your tissues.

Eating too many high-fat foods, especially those high in saturated fat, is a main cause of high cholesterol. This increases your chance for levels of LDL to be increased in your blood.

What Are the Complications of High Cholesterol?

an illustration of clogged arteries

High cholesterol can lead to plaques in your arteries and reduce blood flow, potentially leading to dangerous complications such as:

  • Chest pain, since the arteries that supply your heart with blood can be affected.
  • Increased risk of a heart attack
  • Increased risk of a stroke

Since complications can be quite serious, it’s important to be tested regularly and talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you may have.

What Are Ways To Prevent High Cholesterol?

Although there are certain factors that may leave you more at risk to have high cholesterol, there are still habits you can incorporate into your daily routine to better your wellness overall.

Quit Smoking

Setting aside tobacco products can be an effective way to prevent high cholesterol as well as potentially thwart future health problems. Research ways to start implementing smoke-free habits into your life.

Get More Exercise

Starting small and working your way up to 30 minutes of exercise a day has many benefits beyond just preventing you from having high cholesterol.

Start with small ways you can add some movement into your daily routine. Skip the elevator and use stairs or take an after-work walk through your neighborhood.

Everything in Moderation

Be aware of the kinds of things you are eating and how they could affect you, including how much alcohol you drink. Cutting back on empty calories and making sure everything you consume is in moderation can help maintain cholesterol levels.

Learning How To Manage Stress

Stress can raise your cholesterol levels, so finding ways to reduce and manage stress can be essential for a healthier life, both physically and mentally. Be aware of the daily stresses in your life, implement self-care options, and make more time for relaxing routines and hobbies.

Incorporate these lifelong habits for a more happy and healthy life. As you can see, some of these habits have more than just a positive effect on your cholesterol — they benefit your overall health, too.



Triglycerides: Why do they matter? | Mayo Clinic.

Familial hypercholesterolemia | MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

Heart Attack Symptoms, Risk, and Recovery | CDC.

Stroke - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Differential Effects of Aerobic Exercise, Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Cholesterol and the Lipid Profile: Review, Synthesis and Recommendations | NCBI

Omega-3 Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) Rich Extract from the Microalga Nannochloropsis Decreases Cholesterol in Healthy Individuals: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Three-Month Supplementation Study | MDPI

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