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High Cholesterol Causes

Your body manufactures some cholesterol and gets the rest from food. Your genes play a role in how much your body makes on its own. The rest is determined by what kind of lifestyle you lead. The following factors can contribute to high cholesterol.


What you eat plays a significant role in your cholesterol levels. Eating foods with trans fat or high levels of saturated fat can increase "bad" LDL cholesterol. Foods high in saturated fat include red meat, dairy products, chocolate, and processed foods made with cocoa butter, palm oil, or coconut oil. High levels of dietary cholesterol, found only in foods made from animal sources such as meat and dairy, can also raise your bad cholesterol level. Eating too many calories, in general, can elevate triglycerides.


Being overweight or obese increases your risk of having high cholesterol. People with a high body mass index (BMI) tend to have lower levels of "good" HDL and higher levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and triglycerides than people of normal weight. One study found that for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of weight a person loses, they may be able to raise their HDL by .35 mg/dL. A BMI of 25 to 29 is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or above is considered obese.


Cigarette smoking damages your arterial walls, making them more susceptible to plaque buildup. It may also lower your protective HDL cholesterol. Research shows that quitting increases a person’s HDL by an average of 4 mg/dL.


Not being physically active can contribute to high cholesterol. Getting regular exercise—30 minutes of moderate intensity activity most days of the week—can help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol.

Family History

High cholesterol can run in families. Although that is often due to shared eating habits, sometimes it can also be genetic. The inherited type of high cholesterol affects one in 500 people. The younger you are when high cholesterol strikes, the more likely it is due to genetic factors, especially if you are of a normal weight and you eat healthfully. In these cases, a genetic abnormality leads to the overproduction of cholesterol in the liver.

Content licensed from:

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed : Stephanie Burkhead, MPH

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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