High cholesterol: what causes it? How can diet help?


What is high cholesterol?

High cholesterol, also known as hypercholesterolemia , is a condition in which the body has high levels of LDL cholesterol, the cholesterol popularly known as the “bad” cholesterol.

When LDL cholesterol levels are high, the risk of cardiovascular disease is much higher. High cholesterol in the blood can cause clogging of the arteries and cause diseases such as atherosclerosis and heart attack .

Knowledge of risk factors is essential, since high cholesterol has no symptoms. However, the cause is associated with genetic factors and an unhealthy lifestyle.

Continue reading to learn how to prevent this condition and understand when cholesterol is a health threat.

What is cholesterol?

It is a chemical compound produced by our body that integrates the cell membrane, where it is synthesized by the liver. 70% of cholesterol is of endogenous origin (liver) and 30% is absorbed by food.

Their presence, contrary to what many people believe, is not a bad thing. It is only harmful to health when in excess.

Cholesterol is a fat that does not mix with blood. In order to move around the body, it joins certain proteins to “ride” wherever you need to. These combinations of cholesterol and proteins form lipoproteins .

Like lipoproteins, cholesterol runs through the bloodstream in its three types: HDL, VLDL and LDL.

Contrary to what his fame says, cholesterol is not a villain. Our organism needs it and that is precisely why it produces it. It becomes a threat when levels are too high or too low.

Cholesterol plays an important role in cell membranes, where it controls what enters and leaves them. It is also important for the metabolism of sex hormones.

It is present in the cellular structures of the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, intestine, liver and heart and is important for the proper functioning of all these cells.

It also plays a role in the formation of vitamin D hormones and bile acids, which aid digestion.

Cholesterol types

There are two sources of cholesterol. One of them is produced by our organism and the other is acquired through food:

Dietary cholesterol

Dietary or dietary cholesterol is what we get through the consumption of animal foods. It is present in greater quantities in foods such as egg yolks, cheese and fatty meats.

Serum cholesterol or blood cholesterol

This type of cholesterol is produced by the liver. It travels through the bloodstream when it joins other proteins, forming lipoproteins.

The human body uses cholesterol for the digestion of fatty foods and the production of specific hormones.

Among serum cholesterol there are three classifications, they are divided according to their density, being high, low or very low density.

This classification happens according to the proportion of fat and protein in each one.

LDL cholesterol

LDL cholesterol or Low Density Lipoproteins, translated from the acronym in English, is the type of cholesterol known as bad cholesterol, because it is lodged in the artery wall, causing atherosclerosis.

The greater this accumulation of LDL cholesterol in the arteries, the greater the risk of cardiovascular disease .

HDL cholesterol

This type of cholesterol has the opposite action to LDL. High density lipoproteins (HDL) are responsible for cleaning the arteries. Thus, the higher the levels of this cholesterol, the risk of cardiovascular disease is lower. HDL is popularly known as good cholesterol.


VLDL is a type of cholesterol closer to LDL, with lower density, more fat and less protein. It is also considered a bad cholesterol at high levels.

The function of VLDL is to transport triglycerides through the bloodstream. Triglycerides are also a type of fat that poses a risk to heart health.


High cholesterol is associated with several factors, however, the most frequent causes are related to the absence of healthy habits in combination with a genetic predisposition inherited from the parents.

It can also be caused by other medical complications and medications, however, it is less common for it to happen for these reasons.

Know some habits that contribute to the increase of cholesterol levels and other triggering factors:

Genetic factors

Cholesterol also happens due to genetic factors. People with a family history of this condition are more likely to suffer from the disease.

After going through the bloodstream, cholesterol needs to be removed by the liver. This process happens and results in the formation of bile. Thus, cholesterol levels depend on the performance of the liver.

Bad eating habits

Excessive consumption of saturated fat favors an increase in bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. People on a high-fat diet are at increased risk of suffering from this condition.


The smoking is one of the most frequent causes when it comes to increased cholesterol and consequently, heart disease. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one third of all deaths from cardiovascular disease trigger smoking.

Risk factors

The risk factors for high cholesterol are very close to the causes. However, in addition to unhealthy habits, other conditions are worrying.


Being overweight is one of the factors that contribute to high cholesterol. People who have a BMI over 30 should have the exam checked for cholesterol levels, in addition to looking for a change in habits such as exercise and dietary reeducation .

Family history

High cholesterol cases in the family may pose a greater risk of developing this condition. If high cholesterol is caused by genetic inheritance, the patient must monitor cholesterol levels since childhood.

Sedentary lifestyle

The lack of physical activity contributes to the increase in blood cholesterol levels, being associated with several cardiovascular complications.


Maintaining an unhealthy diet is a warning to anyone who fears high cholesterol. Excessive consumption of trans fat, saturated fat and sugar is associated with an increase in LDL and triglyceride levels.

Alcoholic beverages and cigarettes

The consumption of alcoholic beverages is a risk factor and is associated with several complications, such as hypertension, interference with heart rate and weight gain. Like alcohol, smoking is also a threat to heart health.

Smoking is a habit that damages arterial walls, which can make them more susceptible to the accumulation of bad cholesterol (LDL). In addition, smoking can also impair levels of HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol for our blood system.

Age and gender

High cholesterol poses a greater risk to people as they get older. However, before going through menopause , women typically have higher levels of HDL (good) and lower levels for LDL (bad) than men.

After menopause, they may have higher levels of LDL, increasing the chances of cardiovascular disease.

Mellitus diabetes

Diabetes mellitus patients are more prone to high cholesterol, since they have a greater impairment in arterial walls, due to high sugar.

This is a risk factor that contributes to HDL cholesterol being impaired and LDL levels to increase.


High cholesterol does not usually cause symptoms, being a silent disease. Most people who have this condition do not know until they have a routine blood test or, in the worst case, when they suffer from a more serious complication as a consequence.

However, excess cholesterol can end up causing a deposit of fat in the liver and, from this, some signs appear, such as:

  • The appearance of pellets of fat on the skin (xanthelasma);
  • Swelling in the abdomen region;
  • Sensitivity in the belly region.

As the cholesterol levels increase, other signs may appear, indicating the presence of this problem. Are they:

  • Bad breath;
  • Inflammation in the joints;
  • Indigestion or feeling of heavy stomach;
  • Agitation;
  • Alteration in the eyes, such as the presence of a whitish opaque arc in the eye;
  • Intestine taken;
  • Motion sickness;
  • Loss of balance;
  • Chest pain;
  • Blurry vision;
  • Headache;
  • Food intolerance;
  • Hives and other skin allergies;
  • Fatigue;
  • Weakness.

In addition to knowledge of the risk factors that can lead to an increase in bad cholesterol, it is essential that people who have any of these symptoms seek medical help to investigate the cause.


High cholesterol is not a disease that gives clear signs of its presence. Therefore, the diagnosis is made when the patient takes an exam to check if his cholesterol levels are normal.

The exam to be done is the lipid profile, which was formerly known as lipidogram. For the exam, the person must fast for 9h to 12h.

The lipid profile provides more detailed information on all types of cholesterol, indicating the levels of total cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglycerides, another type of fat present in the body.

It is also possible to have a blood test just to measure total cholesterol and HDL. It is not necessary to fast for this examination.

The frequency at which this test should be done varies according to the person’s age, risk factors and family history. In general, the recommendations are as follows:

People aged 19 and under

Tests to control cholesterol levels can be done in childhood, from 9 and 11 years old. The recommended frequency is that tests are performed every 5 years.

When there is a family history of cholesterol, stroke and cardiovascular disease, the child can be tested even earlier, from 2 years old.

People aged 20 and over

The frequency of blood tests to investigate high cholesterol should continue to be done every 5 years, from 20 to 45 years old for men and from 20 to 55 years old for women.

After 45 years old, for men, and 55 years old for women, the exam should be done at intervals of 1 to 2 years.

Cholesterol levels

A blood test done to diagnose high cholesterol indicates cholesterol levels. The result reveals some numbers, according to the patient’s age and sex. He should point out the levels of HDL, LDL, Non-HDL (total cholesterol without HDL) and total cholesterol. Understand how it works:

People aged 19 and under

Within this age group, cholesterol levels are interpreted equally for men and women. Levels are considered healthy when they are within the limits set out below:

  • HDL : above 45mg / dL;
  • LDL: inferior a 100mg/dL;
  • Non-HDL : less than 120mg / dl;
  • Total cholesterol : less than 170mg / dL.

Men aged 20 and over

After the age of 20, men should pay attention to the following cholesterol levels:

  • HDL : 40mg / dL or more;
  • LDL: inferior a 100mg/dL;
  • Non-HDL : less than 130mg / dL;
  • Colesterol total: 125mg/dL a 200mg/dL.

Women aged 20 and over

Cholesterol levels for women over 20 is similar to cholesterol levels for men, the main difference is in the levels of HDL, the good cholesterol.

  • HDL : 50mg / dL or corn;
  • LDL: inferior a 100mg/dL;
  • Non-HDL : less than 130mg / dL;
  • Colesterol total: 125mg/dL a 200mg/dL.

Can high cholesterol be cured?

When it comes to high cholesterol, there is no treatment focused on healing, as there is no cure without permanent care.

After the diagnosis, the patient must know that he will have to adapt to the treatments, which include a change in habits.

High cholesterol can be considered a chronic disease, which can last for years or a lifetime.


Treatment to control high cholesterol is based on two main measures: changing habits for a healthier lifestyle and medications , when only changes are not able to lower cholesterol levels.

Healthier habits

An unhealthy life and risk factors for high cholesterol go hand in hand. Therefore, the patient who presents this condition will need some changes on a daily basis so that he can normalize cholesterol, avoiding cardiovascular diseases that can lead to death.

Healthier eating and reduced alcohol consumption

Maintaining a healthy diet and reducing alcohol consumption helps keep LDL cholesterol levels under control. Patients should avoid foods high in trans fat, saturated fat and sugar. Look for a nutritionist to understand what is the best diet to follow.

Physical exercise

For a healthier life, it is recommended to practice physical activities regularly. The average is that people practice 30 minutes daily, if possible, every day.

Stress management

The stress chronic can increase LDL cholesterol and lower HDL. Getting control over this condition is positive for patients with high cholesterol.

Stop smoking

As seen, smoking is one of the risk factors for the development of high cholesterol. Therefore, one of the measures during treatment is that the patient seeks to stop this habit.


For some patients, just a change in lifestyle is not enough for cholesterol to return to healthier levels. Therefore, it may be necessary to use medications.

However, even with the use of medicines, the patient should not abandon healthy habits.

To find out which medicine is best for each case, the patient should seek medical help.

Foods that help lower high cholesterol

Some foods are recommended so that cholesterol levels remain healthy. In addition to helping to reduce high cholesterol, they provide other health benefits.

Lean meats and fish

The consumption of red meats should be done in moderation, being a complement to other foods and not as a main dish.

Preference should be given to lean white meats, such as poultry (skinless) and fish. Consumption can be made 3 to 4 times a week, they are beneficial because they are rich in omega 3.

Some options are:

  • Fish : tuna, golden, betrayed, painted, grouper; fish, snapper, boyfriend, croaker, oysters;
  • Meat : soft leg, hard leg, duckling, lizard, rump, fillet, bovine palette, muscle;
  • Poultry : chicken, turkey and chester (without skin).

Oats and other whole grains

The consumption of oats and other whole grains such as barley, rye, brown rice, buckwheat and other types are important for a diet to control high cholesterol because they are foods rich in fiber.

Bitter chocolate

Dark chocolate, for those who can’t get rid of a sweet even on a diet, is the healthiest option. Due to the presence of flavonoids, a substance that helps to lower LDL, it can be introduced into the diet of people with high cholesterol. The recommended amount is 30g daily.


Olive oil is a healthier alternative to replace bad vegetable oils for cholesterol, as it helps protect against heart disease. In addition to regulating cholesterol rates, olive oil is also beneficial in controlling type 2 diabetes, as it reduces the glycemic rate.

Green tea

The consumption of green tea is important for the prevention of tissue inflammation. Due to the presence of substances such as flavonoids, this tea acts as a protection against the formation of clots, which can cause heart attacks.

Chestnuts, walnuts and almonds

Oilseeds like chestnuts, walnuts and almonds contribute to heart health by having a vasodilating action. They are important foods for those who want to prevent and treat high cholesterol. 2 nuts a day is already effective in reducing LDL by up to 5%.


The bean is one of the foods that the patient with this condition can consume without fear. Because it is rich in protein and fiber, it helps to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. In addition, it is a food that provides satiety, which contributes to weight control and weight loss.


Soy and soy-based foods, such as soy milk and tofu, are beneficial foods for controlling LDL. Consumption of 25 grams of soy protein daily can lead to a 5% to 6% reduction in bad cholesterol.

Vegetable oils

The substitution of vegetable oils for food preparation can make the diet even healthier and contribute even more to a better lifestyle.

Instead of using butter or animal fat, opt for liquid vegetable oils of canola, sunflower and safflower, for example.


Fruit consumption is advantageous in any diet. For people with high cholesterol, too. Fruits such as apples, strawberries, grapes and citrus fruits help to reduce LDL cholesterol by having good amounts of fiber.

Milks and derivatives

Milk and dairy products need not be excluded from the diet of patients with high cholesterol. However, it is recommended to consume healthier options, such as white cheese, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, skimmed milk and yogurt.


The consumption of artichoke is indicated because it is a food with good amounts of fiber. In addition to helping to control high cholesterol, the artichoke helps in the control of triglycerides, diabetes and the prevention of obesity . This way, it reduces the risks of cardiovascular diseases.


One of the recommendations for lowering high cholesterol is reduced consumption of alcoholic beverages. However, in the case of red wine, when ingested moderately, it is good for cholesterol.

It has to be said that the consumption of one to two daily doses is capable of promoting an increase in HDL levels by up to 12%.

This effect occurs due to the presence of flavonoids. Other benefits of red wine include its antioxidant, vasodilator and anticoagulant action.


Despite being a food with a fat content considered high, açaí is a food that contributes to lower the levels of bad cholesterol. This is because the fats it contains are considered beneficial for health.

It is recommended to consume açaí without adding other very caloric or low-nutrient ingredients, as açaí is already a caloric food when consumed pure.

Foods to Avoid

In addition to the introduction of good cholesterol-lowering foods on a daily basis, it is also essential that patients avoid foods that contribute to the increase in LDL cholesterol.

Due to the large amount of trans fat, saturated fat or sugar, several items should be consumed sparingly.

  • Greasy red meat and sausages (sausage, ham, bologna, etc.);
  • Vegetable oils processed like soybean, palm, canola, corn oil;
  • Shall;
  • Industrialized and packaged foods (snacks, stuffed cookies, instant noodles, spices);
  • Conventional non-organic dairy products, homogenized and pasteurized;
  • Sugar.

Medications for high cholesterol

There are some types of medications that aim to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. They should be used only with medical advice, having an adequate follow-up of the condition during treatment.

Medicines should be used as a supplement. The patient must continue with lifestyle changes so that the drugs can help effectively.

Some remedies used are:

  • Statins ;
  • Fibrates ;
  • Vegetable sterols;
  • Ezetimibe ;
  • Niacin.


Statins are drugs that act as blockers of the enzyme responsible for controlling the amount of cholesterol that the body produces. It can help to reduce LDL levels by 20% to 55%. It can also contribute to the treatment of high triglyceride levels and increase HDL cholesterol levels.


They are most commonly used drugs to treat high triglyceride levels and to increase HDL. They can help in the treatment of high cholesterol by helping to increase good cholesterol.

Vegetable sterols

They act as blockers, preventing the absorption of cholesterol by the intestine. It can reduce LDL cholesterol levels by about 5% to 15%.


It is a medication that helps to reduce the absorption of cholesterol by the intestine, reducing the levels of high cholesterol by about 18%. Ezetimibe used in combination with low doses of statins can reduce LDL by up to 51%.


Niacin is a fat-soluble vitamin B that helps raise HDL. It has a less efficient action under LDL, but that together with a healthy lifestyle, it can help to control the condition.


NEVER self-medicate or stop using a medication without first consulting a doctor. Only he will be able to tell which medication, dosage and duration of treatment is the most suitable for his specific case. The information contained in this website is only intended to inform, not in any way intended to replace the guidance of a specialist or serve as a recommendation for any type of treatment. Always follow the instructions on the package insert and, if symptoms persist, seek medical or pharmaceutical advice.


High cholesterol is a silent and dangerous condition. Because there are no clear symptoms, patients who do not have a preventive exam routine may take time to discover this problem.

This care with cholesterol levels is fundamental for people’s cardiovascular health, since diseases caused by cholesterol can lead the patient to death.

Fortunately, the prognosis of high cholesterol can be reversed with changes in daily life, such as dietary reeducation, weight loss and physical exercise.

In addition, the available medications prove to be effective in cases where this lifestyle is not enough.


High cholesterol is associated with serious cardiovascular complications. The main diseases that can occur as a result of this condition are:


In atherosclerosis there is an obstruction of the arteries by the formation of fatty plaques. This disease is the main cause of heart attacks, peripheral arterial disease and strokes.

High cholesterol is one of the main reasons for atherosclerosis to occur. As with high cholesterol, in atherosclerosis the patient does not show signs of the disease.

Heart attack

The infarction, or heart attack, is the result of an insufficiency of oxygenated blood in the region of the heart. This happens because of an obstruction (atherosclerosis).

Because of this clogging that the arteries suffer, the blood is unable to circulate and the muscle enters a process of necrosis. It is a serious complication, as the patient may not survive a heart attack.


Stroke, better known by the acronym stroke, is a condition in which the blood flow to the brain breaks down. When this happens, the brain stops functioning normally. Without oxygen in the blood, brain cells begin to die.

The sequelae of a stroke can be serious or even lead the patient to death. One of the causes that lead to this obstruction is high cholesterol.


Diabetes mellitus patients are more likely to suffer from low levels of HDL cholesterol, the cholesterol beneficial to our health. These two conditions make the condition of these individuals even more aggravating.

Complications such as hypertension, heart attack, atherosclerosis and other diseases are associated with patients with diabetes who have high cholesterol.

Liver and biliary difficulties

The increase in bad cholesterol is directly linked to liver function and bile production. When a disorder occurs at these levels, liver and biliary disorders can occur.

How to prevent high cholesterol

High cholesterol can be prevented with some lifestyle changes. As it is a condition without symptoms, it is necessary to pay attention to the risks. Here’s what to do:

  • Avoid physical inactivity and exercise regularly;
  • Consume alcoholic beverages sparingly;
  • Avoid smoking;
  • Seek food re-education and add healthier foods to your daily life, such as foods rich in omega 3 and fiber;
  • Avoid excessive consumption of trans fat, saturated fat and sugar;
  • Avoid fried foods and use little oil in the preparation of food. Choose, if possible, the consumption of roasts, grills and stews;
  • Eat at least 3 meals a day;
  • Have a control of your weight;
  • Investigate whether there are cases of high cholesterol in close family members;
  • Perform routine checkups and have control over your cholesterol levels.

Common questions

Know some of the common questions about high cholesterol:

Can thin people have high cholesterol?

-Yeah . Although being overweight is a risk factor, being overweight is not synonymous with high cholesterol. In the same way that being within what is considered the ideal weight does not eliminate the possibility of thin people having high cholesterol.

High cholesterol is a disease that also happens for a genetic reason. In addition, blood cholesterol levels are dependent on the rate of cholesterol removal by the liver. This means that not all cholesterol control work is done with healthy eating and exercise alone.

People who have close relatives with high cholesterol are more likely to be affected by the disease.

Are triglycerides a type of cholesterol?

No, triglycerides are a different type of fat. They are commonly mentioned when it comes to high cholesterol because the behavior of triglycerides, when at high levels, resemble the action of cholesterol.

In the same way that LDL cholesterol must be kept under control, so should triglycerides, as they can cause heart disease.

Is high cholesterol hereditary?

High cholesterol is hereditary when the patient has this condition due to a deficiency in HDL production by the liver. This process occurs due to a genetic mutation.

When high cholesterol is hereditary, some symptoms are attributed, such as

  • The presence of a family member of the 1st or 2nd degree suffers from the disease or another cardiac condition;
  • When cholesterol levels are above 310mg / dL in total cholesterol or above 190mg / dL in LDL cholesterol;
  • Presence of nodules of fat deposited in the tendons, such as those in the ankles and fingers;
  • Alteration in the eyes, like an opaque whitish arc in the eye;
  • Balls of fat on the skin, common on the eyelids;
  • When it happens before the age of 55.

High cholesterol is a serious and silent condition. To prevent it, it is necessary to know the risk factors and lead a healthier life.

Some changes in daily life, such as choosing foods with less bad fats, exercising, reducing consumption of beverages and smoking already contribute to keep LDL cholesterol at normal levels.

In addition to thinking about LDL, considered a villain, we need a close look at HDL, which helps our body to stay healthy and prevents the obstructive actions of LDL in our blood system.

In this article we discuss what cholesterol is and when it is bad for our body. Share this information with your friends and family and contribute to more healthy hearts. Thanks for reading!