High cholesterol is a common but potentially serious health problem that affects millions of people across the country. If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, you may be wondering what caused the condition to develop. The truth is that several factors can contribute to high cholesterol levels, which can vary from person to person.

A common question is, “Is high cholesterol genetic?” The answer is yes; high cholesterol can be genetic, but it can also be due to diet and lifestyle factors.

The topic of cholesterol can be confusing, so here’s what you need to know about high cholesterol.

Types of Cholesterol in the Blood

When your doctor orders blood tests to evaluate your overall health, it will usually include a lipid (fat) panel. The components of the lipid panel may list numbers for the following components:

  • Total Cholesterol: Your total cholesterol level is the sum of all blood cholesterol types. This number includes both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). A normal total cholesterol level is less than 200 mg/dl.
  • LDL Cholesterol: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is often called “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque buildup within your arteries. When LDL cholesterol levels are high, it can lead to a condition called atherosclerosis. This is where plaque accumulates inside arteries, narrowing the pathways and increasing the risk of heart disease. Typically, LDL Levels below 100 mg/dl are recommended for optimal heart health.
  • HDL Cholesterol: High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is often called “good” cholesterol because it helps your body remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream so it can be processed and excreted by the liver. Higher levels of HDL cholesterol can help lower your risk of heart disease. For men, the recommended HDL level is above 40 mg/dl, and for women, the recommended HDL level is about 50 mg/dl.
  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are fats that come from two places: the foods you eat and your liver. Fat in your food is absorbed into the bloodstream and carried various tissues for use or storage. The liver can also make triglycerides out of excess glucose (sugar) and release them into the bloodstream. High levels of triglycerides can increase your risk of heart disease and pancreatitis. It is recommended that your triglyceride levels be below 150 mg/dl for the best heart health.

Genetics and Cholesterol

Genetic high cholesterol, also known as familial hypercholesterolemia, is a less common form of high cholesterol that can mainly be attributed to your genetics and family history.

Most people have high cholesterol due to a diet high in saturated fats or lack of physical activity. People with genetic hypercholesterolemia may have high cholesterol even if they eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

What if Your Cholesterol Is High?

If your cholesterol levels come back abnormal, here are some tips to help you better manage your diet and reduce cholesterol levels in your blood.

  • Increase your daily intake of soluble fibers, which are found in foods like oatmeal, bran, and whole grain cereals.
  • Reduce your dietary intake of red meats and full-fat dairy products.
  • Avoid trans fats entirely.
  • Tropical oils such as palm and coconut oil are high in saturated fat and should be avoided if you have high cholesterol.
  • Eat a variety of fish at least twice weekly. Eating fish can increase your HDL (good cholesterol). Using Omega-3 fatty acid supplements made from fish sources can be helpful if you don’t like to eat fish.
  • Get 30 minutes of moderate activity five days per week.
  • Quit smoking and reduce alcohol consumption.

If lifestyle changes do not reduce your blood cholesterol levels, your doctor may recommend medications to help lower your cholesterol. Cholesterol-lowering medications, like statins, may be necessary for people with genetic high cholesterol.

Why Managing High Cholesterol Matters

Over time, high cholesterol can lead to a higher risk of stroke, blood clots (which can be fatal), or heart attack. Managing high cholesterol, whether it is genetic or not, is critical in helping ensure you live a longer, healthier life.

Don’t continue to live with high cholesterol any longer – schedule an appointment with an internal medicine specialist today!