So many health conditions seem tied to or impacted by COVID-19, and cholesterol is no exception.
This article will provide more detail on this connection between cholesterol and COVID-19 and how one’s cholesterol levels may impact the risks of severe illness and complications from COVID-19.
Cholesterol is a waxy and fat-like substance in your body. It’s important for things like making cell membranes and producing certain hormones and vitamins.
Although cholesterol has important functions in the body, too much of it can be harmful. When there’s too much cholesterol in your blood, you usually have high cholesterol.
Before starting, there are a few terms to go over regarding cholesterol:
- Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C). LDL-C is often called “bad cholesterol.” This type of cholesterol contributes to cardiovascular disease by causing the buildup of plaque in your blood vessels.
- High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C). HDL-C is sometimes called “good cholesterol.” It helps flush LDL-C and plaque from your blood vessels, protecting you from cardiovascular disease.
- Total cholesterol. Total cholesterol is the amount of LDL-C and HDL-C in the blood. It also involves the level of triglycerides, which are types of fats.
Experts have observed changes in cholesterol levels in people with COVID-19. Specifically, levels of LDL-C, HDL-C, and total cholesterol become lower when a person has COVID-19.
According to a
Experts currently do not know how COVID-19 leads to lower cholesterol levels. Overall, experts believe that increases in inflammation during infection
With COVID-19, the extent of a drop in cholesterol levels can link with illness severity. A
- total cholesterol
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about
Currently, high cholesterol isn’t on the CDC’s
High cholesterol may increase your risk of developing COVID-19
The researchers suggested that this finding could be one reason why areas of the world with higher rates of obesity and high cholesterol have seen more COVID-19 cases and deaths.
How does high cholesterol increase your risk?
Cholesterol is present in the membranes of the cells in the body. As such, it’s possible that higher cholesterol increases susceptibility to COVID-19 by promoting viral entry into host cells.
They suggested that since the virus more effectively infected cells with higher cholesterol, this may add another reason why COVID-19 can be more severe in older adults, as they may be more likely to have underlying medical conditions like high cholesterol.
High HDL-C may protect against COVID-19
Experts found the lowest level of risk in people that had high levels of HDL-C and low levels of LDL-C.
Unlike the other studies discussed, other types of cholesterol, like total cholesterol and LDL-C, weren’t independently associated with the risk of developing COVID-19.
Long COVID is a collection of symptoms that can last weeks, months, or even years after you have COVID-19. People with long COVID can experience a wide variety of symptoms. A few examples include:
- shortness of breath, particularly after exerting yourself
- chest pain
- heart palpitations
- brain fog
- changes in smell or taste
- body aches and pains
Having COVID-19 can change cholesterol levels. But do some people continue to have altered cholesterol levels even after they recover from COVID-19?
Having high cholesterol may actually increase your risk of long COVID as well as prolonged symptoms from other non-COVID illnesses. At least that’s according to a 2022 study.
The study involved people with a wide spectrum of COVID-19 severity, from asymptomatic individuals to those with long COVID. It also included people who tested negative for COVID-19, but had prolonged COVID-like symptoms.
Researchers looked at different blood biomarkers. Unhealthy lipid levels, including cholesterol, were associated with a longer symptom duration for those who had tested positive for COVID-19 and those with other similar illnesses.
COVID-19 vaccines can be great tools in preventing serious illness and death due to COVID-19. However, given the information about COVID-19 and cholesterol, you may be wondering if the COVID-19 vaccine can impact cholesterol levels as well.
There’s currently one 2021 case report of altered lipid levels after vaccination. In it, a person experienced high triglyceride levels after receiving their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
However, the catch is that this individual had an inheritable condition called familial hypercholesterolemia, in which levels of LDL-C greatly increase.
There’s currently no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine impacts cholesterol levels in the general population.
COVID-19 can lead to a drop in cholesterol levels. The extent of this drop connects with illness severity. Most people’s cholesterol levels rise again after they recover.
Having high cholesterol may increase your risk of developing COVID-19 and of having long COVID. As such, consider taking measures to prevent illness, such as staying up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines.
High cholesterol can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, which can have serious consequences, such as heart attack and stroke. If you have high cholesterol, work with your doctor to manage it.