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What Affects Blood Cholesterol Levels

Your blood cholesterol level is affected not only by what you eat but also by how quickly your body makes and disposes of the LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Remember: your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, and it is not necessary to take in any additional cholesterol from the foods you eat. You can use the list below to help you identify ways to help lower your total cholesterol and the rate at which your body rids itself of LDL cholesterol. 

Heredity: Your genes influence how high your LDL cholesterol is by affecting how fast LDL is made and removed from the blood. One specific form of inherited high cholesterol that affects 1 in 500 people is called “familial hypercholesterolemia,” which often leads to heart disease at a young age.  

Diet: There are two key sources of cholesterol in the foods we eat. One is saturated fat, the type of fat found mostly in animal products. Cholesterol is also present in the foods we eat, but it is only available in animal products. The problem with saturated fat is that it raises your LDL-cholesterol level more than anything else in the diet. This is why efforts to reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the foods you eat are key to reducing your blood cholesterol levels.  

Body weight: Excess body weight tends to increase your LDL cholesterol level. This means that if you are overweight and have a high LDL-cholesterol level, losing weight may help you lower it. Weight loss also helps to lower triglycerides (another type of fat carried in the bloodstream) and raise HDL ("good") cholesterol levels.  

Physical activity and exercise: Regular physical activity may lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL ("good") cholesterol levels.  

Age and sex: Before menopause, women usually have total cholesterol levels that are lower than those of men the same age. As women and men get older, their blood cholesterol levels rise until about 60 to 65 years of age. In women, menopause often causes an increase in their LDL cholesterol and a decrease in their HDL cholesterol level, and after the age of 50, women often have higher total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. 

Alcohol use: Moderate alcohol intake increases HDL cholesterol but does not lower LDL cholesterol. Additionally, studies vary in the specific recommendations regarding the best “heart-healthy” amount of alcohol consumption. But, it is well known that drinking too much alcohol can damage the liver and heart muscle, contribute to high blood pressure, and raise triglycerides. Because of these risks, alcoholic beverages should not be used as a way to prevent heart disease.  

Stress: Stress over the long term has been shown in several studies to raise blood cholesterol levels. One way that stress may do this is by affecting your habits. For example, when some people are under stress, they console themselves by eating fatty foods. The saturated fat and cholesterol in these foods contribute to higher levels of blood  cholesterol.  
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