Lifestyle and high cholesterol
Lifestyle factors are the first possible cause most doctors will look at if you have high cholesterol. They are also the easiest factors to change.
There are several areas in which your lifestyle might be increasing your risk of high cholesterol, and these include:
Foods like eggs and liver have been avoided by people with high cholesterol levels in the past because they contain dietary cholesterol. There’s no need to stop eating these foods if you enjoy them, because it’s since been found that they don’t have much effect on your blood cholesterol levels.
The real culprit in your diet is likely to be saturated fat. Saturated fat is the type that’s found in foods like pies and cakes, butter and lard, fatty meat, bacon and sausages, and full fat dairy products like cream and cheese.
UK health guidelines recommend that:
- the average man should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day
- the average woman should eat no more than 20g of saturated fat a day
Being overweight makes you more likely to have higher levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and a lower level of the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. It’s also common for people who have a lot of fat around their middle, and a higher waist circumference to be prone to high cholesterol, which adds to their risk of heart disease.
A lack of regular physical activity can increase your levels of LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol, and getting more active can help to lower it. Although it’s not clear how getting more active can lower cholesterol, there’s often a link between inactivity and obesity, which is a known risk factor for high cholesterol.
It’s also thought that exercise stimulates the enzymes that help move LDL from the blood to the liver where it can be converted into bile or excreted as waste. The more you exercise, the more LDL your body can get rid of naturally.
Too much alcohol
Although it’s thought that moderate amounts of alcohol can help to keep cholesterol levels down, conversely, if you overdo it, it can raise them instead. Regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol can increase your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and heavy drinking can also increase your blood pressure - major risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.
Smoking affects your cholesterol levels because there’s a chemical in cigarettes called acrolein which stops the HDL cholesterol from moving fatty deposits to your liver. This means they can build up on your artery walls, which can narrow your arteries and cause a (atherosclerosis). Smoking also reduces your levels of HDL cholesterol.