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Common Causes of High Cholesterol

• Written by Josh


High cholesterol can put you at risk of a heart attack, stroke and several other medical conditions. Cholesterol is a fatty substance also known a lipid and is vital for the normal functioning body. It's created by your liver but is also found in some foods.

Proteins carry lipid around your body, and this is known as lipoproteins.

There are two different types of lipoprotein:

  1. High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) – This carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to your liver, where it’s either broken down or passed out of your body as a waste product. This is also known as “good cholesterol,” and higher levels are better.
  2. Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) – This carries cholesterol to the cells that need it. However, if there is too much cholesterol for the cells to use it can build-up in the artery walls. This can lead to disease of the arteries, which therefore causes this type of lipoprotein to be “bad cholesterol.”

Today's post will explain what the common causes of high cholesterol are. To learn more about cholesterol please see our in-depth guide.

Lifestyle Causes of High Cholesterol

Your lifestyle choices can be a huge factor when it comes to high cholesterol. The following examples can put you at risk:


Smoking is one of the biggest threats to your health, and it can also lead to high cholesterol. A chemical in cigarettes known as acrolein prevents HDL from transporting cholesterol from fatty deposits to the live. This then leads to the narrowing of your arteries. This restricts the blood flow and oxygen supply to vital organs, putting you at risk of blood clots.

If you're a smoker and you're struggling to quit, check out these 10 reasons to quit today.


If you drink large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis you can increase the level of cholesterol and triglyceride in your body. The latter is created from fat and is absorbed in the intestines and transported around your body.

Here are five ways to cut down on alcohol.

Unhealthy Diet

It's important to watch what we eat and ensure that we're keeping to a healthy, balanced diet. Eating too much foods that are high in saturated fat can increase your risk of high cholesterol. Saturated fats can be found in food such as:

  • Cakes.
  • Biscuits.
  • Butter.
  • Sausages.
  • Fatty cuts of meat.
  • Cheese.
  • Bacon.
  • Ice cream.
  • Pastries.
  • Milkshakes.
  • Chocolate.

According to the NHS, the average man aged between 19 and 64 should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day. Meanwhile, women within the same age bracket should eat no more than 20g of saturated fat a day.

On the flip side, unsaturated fats, found in foods such as oily fish, avocados and sunflower oil, can increase the levels of HDL and reduce any blockages in your arteries. A low-fat diet that includes lots of fibre, such as wholegrain rice, bread and pasta, and plenty of fruit and vegetables has also been shown to help lower cholesterol.


As a result of an unhealthy diet it's likely that you'll gain weight and may even become obese. Being obese puts extra pressure on your body, especially the heart, and can raise the levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, whilst lowering the level of HDL.

Along with high cholesterol, obesity can also put you at risk of Type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

A Lack of Exercise 

Keeping fit and active through exercise and sport is vital to a healthy lifestyle. A lack of exercise can cause several health problems, such as obesity, and therefore increases the level of LDL in your body.

Not only does exercise have you to maintain a healthy weight, but it also increases the levels of HDL in your body. Exercising stimulates the body to move fatty deposits to the liver so they can be broken down.

It's advised that adults complete at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week in order to lower your cholesterol. Good examples include swimming, cycling and walking.

Underlying Medical Conditions

The risk of high cholesterol can be increased if you already suffer from an underlying health problem. Examples include:

Treating the underlying condition can help to reduce cholesterol.

Fixed Factors

There are some causes which cannot be changed or controlled. These are labelled by health professionals as fixed factors. Examples include:

  • Family History - The risk of high cholesterol is increased if your immediate family have a cholesterol-related condition. It's also increased if a close male relative under the age of 55 (and female under 65) has suffered from coronary heart disease or a stroke.
  • Age - The older you get the greater chance there is of your arteries narrowing.
  • Ethnicity - People of Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan or Bangladeshi decent are more at risk of a heart attack and related problems.
  • Gender - Men are more likely to suffer from a heart attack and related problems.

If you have any of the fixed factors listed above, it's even more about to have a healthy lifestyle. You can learn more about cholesterol in our in-depth guide.

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