11 Ways You're Putting Yourself at Risk of High Cholesterol


High cholesterol is a nationwide problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 102 million American adults live with total cholesterol levels at or above 200 mg/dL, which is the cut off for healthy cholesterol. Worse yet, a third of those whose cholesterol is soaring above the safe zone have levels above 240 mg/dL, which puts them at serious risk for potentially fatal health issues. According to Nicole Weinberg, MD, a cardiologist at Providence St. John's Health Center in California, too much LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, blocks your arteries and "can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or death."

Since high cholesterol is a "silent killer" with hardly any visible symptoms, it's almost impossible to recognize when your levels are too high without going to the doctor for a blood test. However, what you can do is control the habits that put you at risk for high cholesterol. Keep reading to discover some of the things that raise cholesterol, so you can adjust your lifestyle—and cholesterol levels—ASAP.

You're taking anti-acne drugs.

Are you using the anti-acne drug Accutane to control your breakouts? If so, it might be putting you at a greater risk of high cholesterol. In 2006, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and Kaiser Permanente analyzed data on nearly 14,000 subjects taking the drug—otherwise known as isotretinoin—and they found that 31 percent had high cholesterol levels. What's more, when these individuals with high cholesterol stopped taking the drug, 79 percent saw their cholesterol levels return to normal.

You're taking birth control pills.

Though birth control pills can be helpful in protecting against unplanned pregnancies and serious period symptoms, certain brands can also come with their fair share of side effects—high cholesterol being one of them. One 2012 study published in the Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences found that oral contraceptive users had total cholesterol levels that were 24.43 mg/dL higher than those who didn't take birth control.

You live in a highly polluted area.

When scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studied the impact of pollution on the body in 2019, they found that fine particle pollution contributes to high cholesterol levels, especially LDL, in patients with heart disease. What's more, the researchers found that "individuals with higher LDL levels may be more susceptible to the health impacts of air pollution," Dr. Laura McGuinn, author of the study, in a press release.

You're stressed out all the time.

According to the American Heart Association, simply being stressed is enough to raise your cholesterol levels and put your heart in harm's way. One 2005 study published in the journal Health Psychology studied the impact of mental stress on 199 middle-aged individuals and concluded that individuals with higher stress levels tend to also have higher total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels.

You drink excessive amounts of coffee.

Starting each morning with a cup of coffee isn't going to raise your cholesterol levels. What might give you high cholesterol, however, is drinking excessive amounts of the caffeinated beverage. In one 2018 study published in the journal Heart, researchers studied the effects of coffee on 116 healthy young adults and found that the more coffee a person drank, the higher their LDL and total cholesterol levels were.

You're consuming red meat on the daily.

Though they are decadent and delicious, red meat products like steaks, hamburgers, and ground beef should only be eaten in moderation. These animal-derived products are all full of saturated fats, which the Mayo Clinic notes can raise your total cholesterol. Other foods high in saturated fats include full-fat dairy products and certain plant-derived products like coconut oil.

You're eating dinner at 10 p.m.

When you eat has just as much of an effect on your cholesterol levels as what you eat. In one 2019 study published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, researchers analyzed the effect of meal time on cholesterol and found that both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol specifically were higher among those who ate later at night. Specifically, LDL cholesterol levels rose an average of 0.94 mg/dL when subjects ate 100 calories more at night.

You're not working out regularly.

One of the many things that regular exercise protects against is high cholesterol. That's according to the Mayo Clinic, which notes that "exercise helps boost your body's HDL, or 'good,' cholesterol while increasing the size of the particles that make up your LDL, or 'bad,' cholesterol, which makes it less harmful."

And you're not watching your weight.

No two bodies are the same, and therefore everyone is going to have different goals and standards when it comes to their weight. However, there is one thing that everyone can use as a universal measurement of health: body mass index, or BMI. And when it comes to BMI, the Mayo Clinic warns that you don't want to go above 30; once you make it into the 30+ range—which is considered obese—you put yourself at a greater risk of high cholesterol.

You're a smoker.

Smoking doesn't just pose a threat to your health by increasing your risk of lung cancer. According to the CDC, it also raises your cholesterol and "damages your blood vessels, speeds up the hardening of the arteries, and greatly increases your risk for heart disease." So, if you are currently a smoker, then do your heart a favor and give up this habit for good.

You binge drink.

Binge drinking is bad not just for your liver, but for your cholesterol as well. One 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that young adults who binge drink on the regular are more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. On average, binge drinkers in the study had total cholesterol that was anywhere from 7.7 to 10.1 mg/dL higher than non-binge drinkers. And for more ways to make sure your heart is in good health, pay attention to these 23 Unexpected Signs Your Heart Is Unhealthy.

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