Why Do Cholesterol Levels Rise?

Sometimes cholesterol levels rise, and this doesn't have to be negative for health. The causes can vary greatly. Keep reading to learn more.
Why Do Cholesterol Levels Rise?
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 30 January, 2023

Cholesterol levels rise for various reasons. However, this isn’t always considered a bad thing for health. In fact, sometimes quite the opposite is true. There are many myths related to lipoproteins that have been disproved in recent years, although the relationship between these compounds and cardiovascular risk isn’t yet clear. Be that as it may, we’re going to tell you the different reasons why cholesterol levels rise.

There are several types of cholesterol or lipoproteins. All of them transport fat, although they can do it in different directions. At the same time, not all of them are functional. They can undergo oxidation processes, which are really harmful in the medium term, as we’ll see below.

Reasons why cholesterol levels rise

One of the main reasons why cholesterol levels rise is genetic reasons. The normal level of this element for a person can be marked in the DNA, according to a study published in the journal Atherosclerosis.

We’re talking about a substance that’s present in the diet but that’s also synthesized in the internal environment. For this reason, even varying your diet, total cholesterol levels in the body can rise.

In this case, we can’t say that the effect is negative. It could result in a process of recovery of homeostasis at the physiological level. As long as the habits remain healthy, there’ll be no problems in the medium and long term.

Attention should also be paid to the type of lipoprotein variation experienced. If only the non-oxidized type goes up, there should be no problem over time.

However, it’s true that cholesterol levels can rise if dietary habits aren’t correct. This happens especially when trans and ultra-processed fats are included in the diet.

In these contexts, the oxidized fraction of lipoproteins increases, which could be related to a higher incidence of atherosclerosis. This is evidenced by research published in the journal Advances in Nutrition.

To avoid this series of processes, it’s important to ensure the inclusion of antioxidants in the diet. This way, the oxidation of cholesterol is prevented, which will protect against the development of cardiovascular disease.

In this regard, it will also be necessary to guarantee the consumption of quality fats. Above all, priority must be given to those of the cis type, regardless of whether they’re saturated or unsaturated.

Does saturated fat raise cholesterol?

Industrial ultra-processed foods raise cholesterol levels.
In addition to genetics, diet is capable of significantly influencing blood cholesterol levels.

Limiting dietary cholesterol and saturated fat intake has been recommended for many years to protect cardiovascular health. In the past, it was believed that both nutrients were able to negatively affect the concentration of lipoproteins in the body.

However, current evidence shows the opposite. Neither dairy nor eggs will have a negative impact on health. Rather, the complete opposite is true.

In fact, cholesterol has the ability to self-regulate. Under normal conditions, it will remain within ranges set by genetics. As long as a person’s habits aren’t bad, they won’t deviate much from said average.

Of course, if alterations are experienced both by default and by excess, making some adjustments at the dietary level may be necessary in order to avoid major problems.

In recent years, considerable importance has been given to having low lipoproteins. But this was incorrect. It’s actually considered to be a risk factor for the development of several complex diseases.

It’s something that’s abnormal and must be treated as such. Therefore, lowering cholesterol levels isn’t always appropriate, especially through drugs. These types of drugs have been shown to generate many side effects on a person’s health.

Be that as it may, it’s always best to analyze the lipid profile completely. Focusing only on the total, HDL, or LDL cholesterol results in a biased reading, as there’s a lack of information. There are VLDL lipoproteins that are important.

Likewise, it’s key to know their degree of oxidation, as it’s in these cases when the risk of atherosclerosis skyrockets. To avoid this, there’s nothing like including vegetables in the diet in sufficient quantities.

Inflammation is important when cholesterol levels rise

One aspect to take into account, especially when cholesterol levels are high, is the existence of a state of low-grade chronic inflammation in the internal environment. This mechanism could be behind the processes of atherosclerosis and many cardiovascular events.

According to a study published in the journal Circulation Research, this series of processes affects most of the body’s systems and is mediated to a large extent by bad lifestyle habits.

To avoid a situation of chronic inflammation, it’s important to maintain a good state of body composition. With this objective, the regular practice of physical exercise and good nutritional guidelines should be promoted.

Fresh foods should be prioritized over industrial ultra-processed ones, as these contain excessive amounts of trans-type fatty acids and simple sugars.

In the same way, it’s crucial to try to sleep at least 8 hours each night. If sleep isn’t optimal, the recovery and homeostasis processes and the subsequent adaptations to the practice of physical activity won’t take place.

Even a 20-minute nap at noon could be enough to compensate for the lack of nighttime rest when the stipulated 8 hours aren’t completed.

At the same time, maintaining vitamin D within the ranges considered adequate will make a difference. We’re talking about a nutrient that’s closely related to cardiovascular diseases, according to research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

However, almost the entire population has a deficit, due to defects regarding exposure to sunlight. Supplementation may be required to correct the problem.

What to do if cholesterol rises?

When a rise in cholesterol levels is detected, there’s no need to be alarmed. Currently, experts question whether this is directly related to a worse state of health.

The first thing that will have to be done is an exhaustive analysis of the person’s habits in order to check if something needs to be corrected. If these are correct, it’s probably wiser to do nothing, as this may be positive homeostatic regulation.

It should be kept in mind that certain important hormones are synthesized thanks to cholesterol, such as testosterone. If the level of some lipoproteins drops too much, reductions in circulating levels of sex hormones may be experienced.

Resorting to pharmacology, especially statins, should be reserved exclusively for very specific cases. If reducing cholesterol levels is necessary because they’ve gone too far out of range, and because triglycerides are also elevated, other types of measures will have to be prioritized.

It may be a good option to include more fiber in the diet, increase the presence of vegetables, and emphasize the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.

These last nutrients are especially important when it comes to controlling inflammation and reducing cardiovascular risk. Above all, they’re found in foods of marine origin. Particularly in oily fish.

For this reason, it’s important that they appear in the diet at least a couple of times a week to ensure a constant and sufficient supply. Even supplementation with fish or cod liver oil could be positive in some cases.

Exercise to lower cholesterol

Bad habits cause cholesterol levels to rise.
Physical activity, especially strength, is capable of positively regulating many metabolic alterations.

Faced with an increase in cholesterol levels induced by bad habits, you can also try physical exercise. Prioritizing strength work will be decisive in order to guarantee muscle growth and improve the state of body composition.

All this makes preventing situations of excess weight or obesity or correcting them in the event that they’ve been established, as optimal control of the lipid profile will be achieved.

In addition, in these cases, triglycerides will be positively affected, which are often more dangerous than cholesterol itself. Once again the preferred option isn’t the use of pharmacology.

Medications are usually nothing more than a bandage for the problem–which tends to become chronic–but aren’t the solution. The best thing is to focus on practicing physical activity and make adjustments to your lifestyle.

Cholesterol levels can rise for various reasons

Cholesterol can rise due to genetic causes or due to bad lifestyle habits maintained over time. Be that as it may, this isn’t always related to an increase in cardiovascular risk.

Every day, there’s more doubt about the reliability of this marker in predicting the probabilities of suffering cardiovascular events. There are other elements that can be more revealing, such as the parameters that denote chronic inflammation.

Cholesterol can vary throughout life. It will also be related to several factors and aspects of physiology, so it will undergo modifications depending on the stages of growth and development.

It can even be affected by changes in sleep habits or sun exposure. Be that as it may, in the event of any concern, it’s best to always consult a health professional.

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