What Causes High Cholesterol?

Parul Dube

March 1, 2023

Cholesterol is a substance found in your blood that is waxy and fatty. It is produced naturally by your liver, and every cell in your body contains it.

We need cholesterol to produce hormones, vitamin D, and substances that aid food digestion. However, cholesterol can also be derived from the foods we consume. If your blood contains too much cholesterol, you have high cholesterol.

It could make you more susceptible to cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke. Read on to understand the various causes of high cholesterol. 

Read more: Cholesterol Diet – Chart Plan, Foods to Eat & Avoid

What are the Types of Cholesterol?

The two primary types of cholesterol are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). A high level of LDL cholesterol negatively affects your health. 

Proteins in your blood carry cholesterol. Lipoproteins are a combination of proteins and cholesterol.

High-density Lipoprotein (HDL) is known as “good” cholesterol. This is because it attempts to remove the ‘bad’ cholesterol from your blood. HDL returns unnecessary cholesterol to the liver, which the liver breaks down so the body can excrete it. 

Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL) is termed “bad” cholesterol. If LDL cholesterol is excessive, it may accumulate within the blood vessel walls. As a result, it narrows the arteries and clogs them up, increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Triglycerides (TGLs) Triglycerides, a particular fat, are also present in the blood. It gets stored in the fat cells of the body. Eating unhealthy foods, high-sugar diets, consuming excessive alcohol, or being obese can increase your triglyceride level.

Triglycerides can also lead to the narrowing of the artery walls, which raises your risk of heart disease. High triglyceride levels can exist with normal HDL and LDL cholesterol levels.

The HealthifyMe Note

High cholesterol can result from a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, stress, and ageing. In addition, menopause, obesity, diabetes, underactive thyroid, familial hypercholesterolemia, and other diseases like kidney and liver disease can also contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels.

What Causes High Cholesterol?

High cholesterol can occur in anyone and have a variety of different causes. Some factors, including lifestyle choices, are within one’s control; others are not. Here are the causes of high cholesterol.

Lack of Physical Activity

If you consume food and don’t exercise, your body can’t get rid of cholesterol, which builds up and causes high cholesterol levels.

Exercise helps by stimulating enzymes that take LDL cholesterol from the blood to the liver, where it’s either turned into bile or passed out of the body. So the more you exercise, the more LDL your body gets rid of.

Unhealthy Eating Habits

How much HDL and LDL cholesterol is in the bloodstream affects the types of fat consumed. Trans fats and saturated fats both lead to high cholesterol.

Fatty meat, baked goods, processed foods, fried foods, and full-fat dairy products have saturated fats.


Smoking elevates LDL cholesterol while simultaneously reducing HDL cholesterol levels. A host of research has conclusively linked smoking with high cholesterol levels.

The sticky nature of LDL cholesterol is worsened by smoking. As a result, it adheres to the walls of arteries and eventually leads to blockage.

The likelihood of having a heart attack or developing other heart conditions increases when an individual smokes and has high cholesterol levels. However, quitting smoking is beneficial for the heart.


Chronic stress can lead to high cholesterol, which increases your risk of having high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and decreases HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, according to research.

That’s because stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline provoke changes that could result in elevated blood sugar and inflammation. In addition, high cholesterol may eventually lead to your liver producing more triglycerides and cholesterol.


Numerous surveys indicate that being obese increases your risk of high triglycerides, which raises cholesterol levels. Because of increased fat tissues in your body, a higher amount of free fatty acids gets delivered to your liver.

Obesity increases cardiovascular risk through increased fasting plasma triglycerides, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, etc.

Obesity can lead to increased triglycerides, which in turn raises cholesterol levels. That is because fat tissue in obese individuals releases more free fatty acids into the liver.

In addition to increased fasting plasma triglycerides, obesity also leads to high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol, which contribute to cardiovascular risk.

Type 2 Diabetes

Even if you have diabetes with controlled blood sugar, you could still have high triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels.

Diabetic dyslipidemia is a condition that occurs when a person has diabetes, low amounts of good cholesterol, high levels of bad cholesterol, and excessive triglycerides.

Read more: Type 2 Diabetes – Symptoms, Causes & Diet Plans

In addition, LDL particles are typically smaller and denser in patients with diabetes. That increases its potential to enter blood vessels and form plaque in your arteries.

Read more: Type 2 Diabetes Diet – A Comprehensive Guide

Certain Medications

Some medications may unexpectedly affect your cholesterol. Several birth control pills, retinoids, corticosteroids, antivirals, and anticonvulsants are among them.

Diuretics and older versions of beta-blockers are two examples of medications for high blood pressure that can also increase cholesterol.


Oestrogen levels affect your cholesterol. After menopause, when oestrogen levels decrease, your cholesterol increases. Research shows that LDL and total cholesterol levels increase before and after your last period.

In addition, women gain 8 to 10 pounds following menopause, which also increases the chances of high cholesterol due to lack of exercise.


As we age, our cholesterol levels typically rise. This increased risk of heart disease is due to several factors, including medications, hormone levels, physical activity, and changes in body composition.

Underactive Thyroid

Thyroid hormones assist your body in eliminating excess cholesterol. Therefore, hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid increases the body’s total and LDL cholesterol levels. 

Read more: Thyroid Diet Chart – Foods to Eat, Foods to Avoid

Kidney Disease

Your cholesterol levels could increase if you have kidney problems. Investigations indicate that nephrotic syndrome, a type of kidney disorder, elevates your LDL and total cholesterol levels.

Liver Disease

Liver dysfunction can impact cholesterol levels because the liver produces, processes, and breaks down cholesterol. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which occurs when extra fat gets deposited in the liver, is one of the most prevalent diseases.

Read more: Fatty Liver Diet – Essential Guidelines to Follow

The more severe type is known as NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis). NASH results in liver cirrhosis by causing the liver to swell and scar.

Drinking Excessive Alcohol

Alcohol does not contain cholesterol, yet it can affect cholesterol levels. That is because the body breaks down alcohol into triglycerides, which can raise LDL cholesterol levels.

A High-sugar Diet

Your liver produces more LDL cholesterol and triglycerides when you consume a lot of sugar. Therefore, not just saturated fats but too much sugar is also a culprit that raises cholesterol. 

Read more: Sugar Diet – An Insight into the Sugar Detoxification

Familial Hypercholesterolemia

Familial hypercholesterolemia is a genetic condition. It raises LDL cholesterol levels significantly. The condition may cause heart attacks, coronary artery disease, etc., at an early age.


Making lifestyle changes is the first step to reducing your blood cholesterol.

Reducing elevated cholesterol levels is essential to avoid several potentially grave problems. Speak with your doctor or health professionals to get recommendations for medications that can help.

About the Author

Parul holds a Masters of Medical Science in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and has worked across the globe from the U.K to New Zealand (NZ) gaining her License with the Health Professionals Council (HPC, UK) and the NZ Nutrition Council. From being a Gold medalist in Clinical Nutrition to being awarded an internship with World Health Organisation (WHO, Cairo, Egypt) and Contracts with CDC Parul has had a wide spectrum of work experiences. She is very passionate about Nutrition and Fitness and holds strong to her guiding mantras ‘ Move more’ and ‘Eat Food that your grandmother can recognize’!

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2 responses to “What Causes High Cholesterol?”

  1. I ws diagnosed with hypertension n high cholesterol n um taking my meds so the problem is i always hv up-normal heart beat…i feel like um nervous bt um nt…any help….

    • I understand that because of your elevated blood pressure, your heart rate is on the higher side and you tend to get nervous easily. This is normal and you should not feel strange about it. Do understand that the solution is quite simple and needs your complete attention. It requires you to deep breathe and meditate for 20 min daily – morning and night. Once you establish a deep breathing, meditation ritual, you will feel more relaxed and willing to face different challenges in the day.

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