A lipid disorder means that you have high levels of either low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or elevated levels of fats called triglycerides.
If you have high LDL cholesterol or high triglycerides, you probably have an increased risk for developing heart disease.
The two major forms of cholesterol found in your body are high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
HDL, or “good cholesterol”, has a protective effect on your heart. HDL transports harmful cholesterol out of your arteries. Doctors usually recommend that you have a high level of HDL cholesterol.
LDL, or “bad cholesterol”, is made by your body and also absorbed from cholesterol-rich foods such as red meat and dairy. LDL can combine with other fats and substances, creating blockages in your arteries. This can reduce your blood flow and cause serious health problems.
A triglyceride is a type of fat you get from the food you eat. Your body also produces it when it converts excess calories to fat for storage. Some triglycerides are necessary for the proper cell functions, but too much is unhealthy. People with high cholesterol often have a raised level of triglycerides.
Medical conditions or bad dietary habits can cause high blood cholesterol and high triglycerides.
Foods that contain saturated fat can cause an increase in cholesterol. Saturated fat is mostly found in animal-based food products such as:
Some plant-based foods, such as palm oil and coconut oil, also contain saturated fats.
Transfats, or trans-fatty acids, have undergone a hydrogenation process. Some transfats are found in animal products. These fats are often found in peanut butter, margarine, and potato chips.
Foods high in these two fats lower HDL levels and increase LDL levels. This decreases your defenses against heart disease and stroke, increasing your risk of developing these conditions.
High levels of cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes cause high triglycerides. High blood cholesterol levels can result from:
- metabolic syndrome
- medication side effects
- Cushing’s syndrome
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- kidney diseases
What Else Causes High Cholesterol?
A lack of exercise can increase your LDL. Exercise is shown to boost your healthy HDL cholesterol. Smoking can also increase your bad cholesterol by causing plaque to build up in your arteries. Your family history can also tell you whether you’re at risk for high blood cholesterol.
How Can I Tell if My Cholesterol or Triglycerides Are High?
High cholesterol doesn’t have any symptoms. Symptoms only appear after significant damage has been done due to increased cholesterol.
High cholesterol and triglyceride levels can be detected by a blood test called a lipid profile, or lipid panel. A lipid profile measures your total cholesterol (both LDL and HDL cholesterol) and triglycerides. Your doctor will likely ask you to avoid eating and drinking liquids other than water for at least 10 to 12 hours before this test.
The lipid profile measures cholesterol in milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter (mg/dL).
Your total cholesterol level should be no higher than 200 mg/dL.
A combination of exercise and medications can correct high cholesterol and triglycerides.
A group of drugs called “statins” are commonly used to treat high cholesterol. This type of medication blocks a substance created in your liver that produces cholesterol. Your liver then removes cholesterol from your blood. Statins can also absorb cholesterol trapped in your arteries.
Commonly prescribed statins include:
Medications called “cholesterol absorption inhibitors” lower your cholesterol by limiting your body’s absorption of dietary cholesterol. They are sometimes combined with statins.
Medications called “bile-acid-binding resins” can also lower high blood cholesterol. These medications trap bile resins (which contain cholesterol) and prevent them from being reabsorbed in your small intestine.
Fibrates are medications that lower high triglyceride levels in your blood.
Omega-3 fatty acids available over the counter are commonly used to lower triglycerides and LDL. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that increase your heart’s health. These fats are naturally found in fatty fish, such as salmon. Plant oils such as canola and olive oil also contain omega-3 fatty acids.
Niacin increases the level of HDL production. Niacin is available over the counter or in prescription strength. According to the Mayo Clinic, niacin doesn’t give more benefit than statins by themselves.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that no more than 6 percent of your daily calories come from saturated fat. The AHA also recommends limiting transfat to no more than 1 percent. Eating plenty of whole grains, fruit, and vegetables can also decrease high cholesterol.
Other ways you can maintain a healthy cholesterol level include:
- eating skinless poultry with no visible fat
- eating lean meats, in moderate portions
- eating low-fat or fat-free dairy products
- consuming polyunsaturated fats and mono-unsaturated fat instead of saturated fats and transfats
- exercising for at least 30 minutes per day, four days per week
- avoiding fast food, junk food, and processed meats
- eating grilled and roasted foods instead of fried foods
Being overweight, smoking, and even having a family history of lipid disorders are all risk factors for lipid disorders. Avoiding certain foods, refraining from drug use, and being screened for a lipid disorder can prevent or lessen the effects of this disorder.
High cholesterol and high triglycerides affect the heart and can put you at increased risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Making healthy lifestyle choices and knowing your genetics can also help you avoid a lipid disorder.