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Why Is My Cholesterol High Even Though I Eat Healthy?

Why Is My Cholesterol High Even Though I Eat Healthy?

Your cholesterol levels convey critical information about your health, and when your cholesterol is too high, you’re at increased risk for serious health emergencies like heart attack and stroke.

It’s important to understand that everyone needs some cholesterol in order for their bodies to function properly. Fatty cholesterol in your blood has a waxy consistency and encourages the production of hormones, vitamin D, and substances that aid digestion. It also forms part of cell membranes.

Dr. Gurprit Sekhon includes a cholesterol screening during her patients’ wellness exams at Nu Wave Medical Center, and if you’re found to have high cholesterol, she can recommend lifestyle changes you can make to lower your levels, as well as prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications, if needed. 

By monitoring and managing your cholesterol, you can support your long-term health.

What causes high cholesterol?

Though your liver produces all the cholesterol you need, you also get it from animal foods (e.g. meat, eggs, dairy) that are high in saturated and trans fats. Eating more than what your body needs is what can cause levels to become harmful.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL) both bind to cholesterol. High levels of LDLs bound to cholesterol cause a fatty plaque to accumulate on your artery walls, narrowing them, which is why this is often called the “bad” cholesterol.

HDLs help carry excess cholesterol to your liver for elimination, so they’re often referred to as the “good” cholesterol.

There’s also another type of “bad” lipoproteins — very low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs), which bind to cholesterol and another type of fat, triglycerides. Triglycerides are formed when you eat more calories than you can burn; these are then stored in fat cells for later use. 

Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), and a healthy cholesterol reading looks like:

Most of the 95 million Americans living with high cholesterol could lower it by making lifestyle changes, such as eating a more nutritious, high-fiber diet; exercising more; and losing weight if necessary. 

Is high cholesterol linked to lifestyle practices alone?

You might be stymied if your cholesterol testing reveals unhealthy high cholesterol, despite the fact that you’re eating well, moving daily, and are at a healthy weight. 

Another less-discussed cause of high cholesterol has to do with your family history. Familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited disorder marked by your body’s trouble with removing LDL cholesterol from your blood. 

With this disorder, you’re essentially born with high cholesterol, and it keeps accumulating for decades, clogging your arteries and veins. It puts you at a high risk for heart attack or stroke at an unusually early age.

Those most at risk for familial hypercholesterolemia are people whose families carry the genetic mutation that causes it. This includes Ashkenazi Jews and Lebanese, French Canadian, or Afrikaner (an ethnic group from South Africa) individuals.

An added danger for these people is that, since high cholesterol has no obvious symptoms, they can live with the problem for many years, yet be completely unaware of their condition. This is one reason why it’s critical to learn as much as possible about your family health history.

If you have male relatives who’ve experienced heart attacks, needed stents, or had bypass surgery before age 55 — or female family members who’ve undergone the same procedures or a heart attack before age 65 — the underlying problem could be familial hypercholesterolemia. 

When you have a family history similar to this, early and chronic high cholesterol could be at the root of it. Other symptoms people notice include lumps that are actually fatty deposits under their skin (xanthomas). These tend to form in the tendons of your hands, Achilles tendons, heels, and elbows, as well as under the skin surrounding your eyes. Sometimes an ophthalmologist can also spot signs of high cholesterol during an eye exam. 

If you have a family history of heart disease, talk to Dr. Sekhon about it. As a matter of course, she always checks your cholesterol levels, and she encourages all patients with high cholesterol to eat well, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight, but unfortunately — and unfairly —  if you have familial hypercholesterolemia, even eating a very low-fat diet won’t be enough to address the problem. 

Dr. Sekhon also recommends cholesterol-lowering medications called statins, which can lower your LDL cholesterol by 50% or more

If you’re concerned about your cholesterol or simply want to know your numbers, call our   Breakfast Point Medical Center office at 850-493-6948, or book an appointment online.

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