If you’re living a healthy lifestyle but your cholesterol stays stubbornly high, these surprisingly simple reasons could be to blame. Find out how to control high cholesterol.
If you have high cholesterol, you’ve no doubt heard of the importance of following lifestyle habits such as healthy eating and exercise. It may help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides, a form of fat found in the blood, as well as raise high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL, or “good” cholesterol).
The first four steps to lower cholesterol
Regular exercise, defined as 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity four to six times per week, can raise HDL levels and lower LDL and triglycerides.
A heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and fish can also help control cholesterol.
Smoking lowers HDL levels
Maintain a healthy weight
For people who are overweight or obese, losing 5-10% of body weight can improve cholesterol levels
Although these lifestyle changes are very important to help manage high cholesterol, they are not always enough for everyone. Plus, there may be surprising culprits undermining your efforts.
12 sneaky causes of high cholesterol
If you’re doing everything you can to lower your cholesterol, but it’s still high, you’re not alone. Here are some of the most common reasons.
1. You are at genetic risk for high cholesterol.
If you are someone who leads a relatively healthy lifestyle and your cholesterol level is high, you probably have a genetic component that leads to high cholesterol. Familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited condition that causes cholesterol to build up in the blood.
2. You’re on a fad diet
People with high cholesterol should avoid the keto diet, a high-fat, low-carb diet touted as a way to lose weight. The most effective diets for lowering cholesterol are plant-based diets or vegan diets, in which you decrease your dietary cholesterol intake. If you still want to include meat in your diet, stick to lean proteins, such as chicken, turkey, and fish.
3. You have hidden fats in your diet
While lowering cholesterol makes sense, it’s not the only aspect of a heart-healthy diet. It’s also important to limit not only saturated fats but also trans fats, both of which raise LDL levels. Reduce these unhealthy fats by consuming less red meat and processed meat (like sausage), butter and whole dairy products.
4. You expect your diet alone to cure high cholesterol
A healthy diet is essential, but it may not be enough if you are genetically predisposed to high cholesterol. With dietary changes, you can expect about a 5-10% decrease in the amount of cholesterol they can lower, but results are variable. Exercise is also important.
5. You don’t make your own food
When you eat out, you don’t have complete control of your diet. Even if you try to make healthy choices, you don’t know how your food is cooked or what ingredients are used. Also, portion control can be more difficult. The easiest way to make sure you’re following a heart-healthy diet is to cook your own meals. And make dining out an occasional pleasure!
6. You’re not doing the right kind of exercise.
While any physical activity is good, aerobic or cardiovascular exercise has been shown to help lower LDL levels and raise HDL levels. Consider walking, biking, swimming, dancing, or other cardio activities that you can do at a moderate intensity.
7. You are taking medication that raises cholesterol levels
Certain medications including steroids, retinoids and progestins used to treat other illnesses can raise cholesterol levels. Make sure your doctor knows about all the medications you are taking. There may be alternative treatments that won’t affect your cholesterol.
8. You drink too much alcohol
It is not necessary to stop drinking, but it should be done in moderation. Too much alcohol can raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels and contribute to weight gain. For men, no more than two glasses a day and women, only one.
9. You don’t take statins as prescribed.
Statins have had a tremendous impact in saving lives. But to be effective, they must be taken exactly as prescribed. Make sure you know when to take them and at what dose. Your pharmacist can answer all your questions.
10. Statins are potentially ineffective for you
There is a subset of people who cannot tolerate statins. There is another class of drugs that can also be used to help lower LDL, the PCSK9 inhibitor, but it is generally only recommended for patients at very high risk of heart attack or stroke.
11. You expect results too soon.
If you’ve just made lifestyle changes or started taking medication, it may be too early to see results. Remember that high cholesterol did not develop overnight and it may take some time to bring it down to healthy levels. Keep working with your doctor and following your treatment plan to get results.
12. You rely on medication without changing your lifestyle
A February 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that people with high cholesterol levels tended to gain more weight and exercise less once they were prescribed statins. Although statins and other cholesterol-lowering drugs are effective, they are not meant to be the only way to manage high cholesterol. If you need help making lifestyle changes, your doctor can guide and support you.
If you’re doing everything you can to lower your cholesterol, including lifestyle changes, but it’s not enough, talk to your doctor. There are many treatments to help you manage high cholesterol and lower your risk of heart attack and stroke, so you can stay healthy for many years.