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This is the #1 Cause of High Cholesterol

Here's the five common causes of high cholesterol.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

High cholesterol is a health concern that affects an alarming amount of the U.S. population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Nearly 94 million U.S. adults age 20 or older have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL. Twenty-eight million adults in the United States have total cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dL. 7% of U.S. children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 have high total cholesterol." The CDC adds, "Having high blood cholesterol raises the risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death, and for stroke, the fifth leading cause of death. High cholesterol typically does not have symptoms so many don't realize they're at risk for major health issues. A blood test is the only way to check cholesterol levels so seeing a physician annually is always recommended. Knowing the causes of the high cholesterol is vital so you can help avoid the preventable condition. Here's five ways high cholesterol can happen. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Excessive Alcohol Intake

woman drinking wine alcohol at home

The Mayo Clinic states, "Drinking too much alcohol can increase your total cholesterol level." The CDC says, "To reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed."



stressed woman

The Cleveland Clinic explains, "Stress triggers hormonal changes that cause your body to produce cholesterol."



no smoking sign

The CDC says, "Smoking damages your blood vessels, making them more likely to collect fatty deposits. Smoking may also lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good") cholesterol levels. If you don't smoke, don't start."


Not Getting Enough Exercise

overweight woman at home lying on the floor, laptop in front of her, prepared to work out on mat according to video

The CDC recommends exercising at least 150 minutes a week and the Cleveland Clinic states, "Physical activity like aerobic exercise improves your cholesterol numbers. If you have a desk job or sit a lot in your free time, your body won't produce enough "good cholesterol."


Poor Diet

Man eating pizza having a takeaway at home relaxing resting

According to the Mayo Clinic, "Eating too much saturated fat or trans fats can result in unhealthy cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy products. Trans fats are often found in packaged snacks or desserts."


Non-Modifiable Risk Factors

closeup doctor's hand holding blood sample for cholesterol

Lifestyle choices play a large role in high cholesterol, which you can modify, but some risk factors you can't change.


The Mayo Clinic says, "Even young children can have unhealthy cholesterol, but it's much more common in people over 40. As you age, your liver becomes less able to remove LDL cholesterol."

The CDC states, "Everyone's risk for high cholesterol goes up with age. This is because as we age, our bodies can't clear cholesterol from the blood as well as they could when we were younger. This leads to higher cholesterol levels, which raise the risk of heart disease and stroke."


According to the CDC, "Until around age 55 (or until menopause), women tend to have lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") levels than men do. At any age, men tend to have lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good") cholesterol than women do."

Family History

The CDC explains, "Some people have an inherited genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). This condition causes very high low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol levels beginning at a young age that, left untreated, continue to worsen with age. FH is relatively rare in the United States. An estimate of 1 million U.S. adults have confirmed or probable FH.1

If someone in your family has a heart attack early in life, talk to your health care team about your own and your other family members' risk for FH and whether your family should get tested."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather