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What causes high cholesterol?

One of the most common causes of high cholesterol levels in the blood is eating too much saturated fat.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a wax-like, fatty substance that’s sometimes called a blood fat because it circulates in our blood. It’s an essential part of every cell in our body and has many important functions.

For example, it’s used as a building block to make hormones such cortisol, testosterone and progesterone. It’s used to make bile acids, which help to digest fat. And it’s a component of vitamin D.

However, if too much cholesterol circulates in the blood, this can affect the risk of coronary heart disease.

Causes of high cholesterol that we have the ability to change

Things that increase our cholesterol that we have the ability to change include:

  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Eating an unhealthy diet, especially one that is high in saturated fat
  • Being overweight, especially with too much fat around our waist
  • Having poorly controlled type 2 diabetes
  • Drinking too much alcohol

These are all factors you can change to help lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Read more: Healthy foods to lower cholesterol

Other causes of high cholesterol

There are some factors that increase your risk of having raised cholesterol levels that can’t be changed. These include:

  • Having a family history of raised cholesterol or early cardiovascular disease
  • Being over 40 years old
  • Having a diagnosis of most conditions that affect cholesterol levels

For example, around 1 in every 500 people have high cholesterol levels caused by a genetic condition called Familial Hypercholesterolaemia.

Read more: Can you inherit high cholesterol? – Familial hypercholesterolemia

If any of the factors that can’t be changed apply to you, it’s even more important you focus on making changes to the factors above that you can control.

What about cholesterol found in food?

The cholesterol that naturally occurs in some foods – such as eggs, prawns, liver and kidney – is known as ‘dietary cholesterol’. Dietary cholesterol usually has very little influence on blood cholesterol levels, so food like eggs and prawns can be eaten as part of a healthy and balanced diet.

Read more:

Top tips for reducing cholesterol

Understanding your cholesterol levels

Plant stanols and how those can reduce your high cholesterol

Everything you need know about cholesterol