What is high cholesterol and how to lower high cholesterol level

People often talk about high cholesterol, lowering high cholesterol. So, what cholesterol actually is? It is always better to understand what is high cholesterol and how to reduce it. Cholesterol is not always bad, in fact, cholesterol is a very essential constituent to the human body, the only uncontrolled number is not desirable. Here we learn what is high cholesterol and how to reduce it.

what is high cholesterol and how to reduce it


Actually, what is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance, a type of lipid molecule (lipid includes include fats, waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, phospholipids, and others.).

Like many other substances, Cholesterol is also an important substance found in every cell of the body and our body needs cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help the body to digest foods. (1) It is an essential component of the cell membrane that is needed to maintain proper membrane permeability and fluidity. About 80% of blood cholesterol is made by the liver of the body and only about 20% comes from the food source. (2) The body makes cholesterol to perform many vital functions inside the human body. Numbers of factors stimulate the liver to more blood or serum cholesterol by the liver, which is a different story. If you don’t eat your body will make cholesterol. The body regulates your serum or blood cholesterol. And there is no significant relationship between serum cholesterol and dietary cholesterol. 

Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood. It circulates through blood with proteins in a small package made of fat (lipid) inside and protein outside. This Cholesterol-protein combination is called a lipoprotein. Two kinds of lipoproteins circulate through blood as a cholesterol carrier called LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein or bad cholesterol) and HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein or good cholesterol. Lipid analysis (lipoprotein profile or lipid profile) measures blood levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

What is High cholesterol

High blood cholesterol is a condition when LDL or bad cholesterol level is high in your blood. Normally high blood cholesterol has shown no symptom unless if you have Familial hypercholesterolemia (Familial hypercholesterolemia is a genetic disorder of having high LDL cholesterol in blood). To know your number you have to check your lipid profile or total cholesterol. Your lipid profile shows you:

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL (bad) cholesterol: LDL cholesterol is also known as bad cholesterol as it encourages the deposition of cholesterol in the blood vessel, that build-up may cause blockage in the arteries as well as harden arteries (This section has been further updated with LDL-particle size, Apolipoprotein B with this article)
  • HDL (good) cholesterol: HDL cholesterol is considered as good cholesterol, as it carries LDL back to the liver, where it is broken down and eliminated from the body with bile and prevents deposition in the artery wall.
  • Triglycerides–another form of fat in your blood mostly carried in VLDL (Very Low-Density Lipoprotein) and chylomicrons. VLDL comes from the liver and also has cholesterol. Chylomicrons come from dietary fat. A higher level of Triglycerides may increase the risk of heart disease. Both refined carbohydrates and added sugar increase triglycerides to a very level.

Know what happens to your body if you consume refined carbohydrates from processed foods.

And how your body use added sugar and how it can harm your health.

Actually, this good cholesterol or bad cholesterol terms are misleading. Cholesterol is produced by the body for purposes and they are responsible for many vital functions inside the human body. Uncontrolled low-density lipoprotein in the bloodstream may carry risk, that’s why it is usually termed as bad cholesterol.

Problem with High blood cholesterol

Unfavorable high blood cholesterol may carry the risk of atherosclerosis to a higher level. Atherosclerosis is the process of accumulation of fats, cholesterols, triglyceride, calcium, and other substance in the artery wall and clogging and hardening of the blood vessels. When LDL is oxidized, it promotes vascular dysfunction and contributing to atherogenesis i.e. deposition of abnormal lipid or fatty masses in the artery wall. (3)And atherosclerosis or plaque formation in an artery is contributed by oxidized cholesterol, not native cholesterol. This accumulations or plaque formation narrows the arteries by thickening the artery wall, making it harder for blood to flow through. Unfavorable high blood cholesterol may be a symptom and risk factor of coronary artery disease, but not the root cause. Atherosclerosis is resulted from chronic inflammation-confirmed by recent investigations. (4)

Learn about  8 lesser-known foods that can inflame your body.

And lesser-known anti-inflammatory foods to protect your health.

And you must aware of the term oxidation which is a silent killer to your body. Oxidation damage your cells/tissue of organs or body parts as well as cause premature aging. Researchers found that the development of cardiovascular diseases is extremely complex and multifactorial. (5)

Picture courtesy-National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Atherosclerosis further can lead to complications that include:

Chest Pain: When atherosclerosis interrupts blood flow to heart (through) coronary arteries, you may have chest pain (angina) and some other complication.

Heart Attack: Eventually plaque formation area inside the artery wall due to atherosclerosis may tear or rupture, which leads to the formation of blood cots and further blockage of blood flow. If a blockage occurs to an artery of the heart (coronary artery), you may suffer a heart attack.

Figure A is an overview of a heart and coronary artery showing damage (dead heart muscle) caused by a heart attack. Figure B is a cross-section of the coronary artery with plaque build-up and a blood clot.-courtesy- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Stroke: In the same way of heart attack, if a blockage occurs to an artery of the brain, stroke can occur.

Know your number:(6)

Uncontrolled cholesterol number definitely is not desirable and may carry risk to a higher level. You can compare your number with reference to the below chart.

Total Cholesterol Level


Less than 200mg/dL Desirable
200-239 mg/dL Borderline high
240mg/dL and above High

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol Level

LDL Cholesterol Category

Less than 100mg/dL Optimal
100-129mg/dL Near optimal/above optimal
130-159 mg/dL Borderline high
160-189 mg/dL High
190 mg/dL and above Very High

HDL (Good) Cholesterol Level

HDL Cholesterol Category

Less than 40 mg/dL A major risk factor for heart disease
40—59 mg/dL The higher, the better
60 mg/dL and higher Considered protective against heart disease

If your triglyceride level is borderline high (150–199 mg/dL) or high (200 mg/dL or higher), you may need attention.

However cholesterol level is not a good indicator of coronary artery disease. (7)

C-Reactive Protein(CRP) in the blood is an indicator of inflammation in the body. As atherosclerosis or plaque formation results from chronic inflammation, CRP testing makes a better sense along with an uncontrolled cholesterol number for early detection of chronic inflammation and may help in saving a life.

Factors that may raise your cholesterol level include:

Poor diet:

Eating excessive unhealthy fat, trans fat ( fat that is highly altered in food industries found in most of the fried and packaged foods, in some commercially baked cookies and crackers, pastries, chips etc-read label before buying), hydrogenated oil, refined sugar can lead to many health complications including abnormal cholesterol level.


If you are obese or overweight then you are at a greater risk of higher cholesterol levels.

Body Mass Index is the calculator of overweight or obesity. It calculates your body weight in relation to your body height. You can check your body mass index here

Lack of physical activity:

Physical inactivity can lower your HDL i.e. good cholesterol level and increase your LDL (bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol. (8)


cigarette smoking can lower your HDL level and it can also damage the artery wall of the blood vessel which further leads to the accumulation of fatty deposits inside the artery wall as well as hardening of the blood vessel. Hence it is better to avoid smoking as early as possible.


People with a family history are likely to have high blood cholesterol. Lifestyle changes may help to take control of such health complications. However individual with genetic complications should consult with healthcare providers.

Age and gender:

From starting puberty, men often have lower levels of HDL cholesterol than women. LDL cholesterol levels often rise with the age of women and men. Before age 55, women usually have lower LDL cholesterol levels than men. However, after age 55, women can have higher LDL levels than men.

If you are 20 years or old, you should check your cholesterol level at least once in five years. (9)


High blood sugar may contribute to a higher LDL level and low HDL level.(10) Along with diabetes consumption of added sugar can bring numerous health complications to your health. You can know about these here.

Some Health condition:

Some other health conditions can also lead to abnormal cholesterol number which includes:(11)

  • Kidney disease
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Pregnancy and other conditions that increase levels of female hormones
  • Underactive thyroid gland

Certain Medicine:

Medicines such as certain birth control pills, diuretics (water pills), beta-blockers, and some medicines used to treat depression may also raise cholesterol levels. (12)

Prevention and reducing high cholesterol:


Avoid trans fats, hydrogenated oil, refined sugar(read the label before buying), refined grains, processed foods as much as possible. Also, avoid damaged and rancid fats or oils. Many oils available in the markets become damaged when heated to higher temperatures. We will come out to this in a separate article in detail. Smoke point or temperature sustainability is a very critical aspect of cooking oil. At this stage you should know oil with monounsaturated fat can withstand moderate temperature, saturated fat is comparatively stable than other fats or oil, can withstand higher temperature, and oil with polyunsaturated fatty acids are the most delicate.

Diet should include:

Soluble fiber has beta-glucan that absorbs LDL, then excretes from the body. Eat whole food, oats, legumes such as chickpeas, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, lima beans, lentils, green leafy vegetables, etc to get soluble fiber. Supplement of soluble fiber also works to lower cholesterol levels. Choose the majority of food with alkaline ash. Foods high in antioxidant properties help in fighting chronic inflammation.

Nuts such as walnut, almonds, etc handful a day.

Fruits such as Apples, grapes, strawberries, oranges, pears, prunes, etc

It should be noted that food should be chemical-free and every food has its own functionality and should be used in the limit. And most importantly you should develop a habit to read the label before buying any packaged food.

You can also read 10 best cholesterol-lowering food.

Exercise and Physical activeness:

In one way, exercise can help to lower cholesterol by reducing LDL, which can form fatty deposits in the arteries and contribute to heart disease. Exercise stimulates enzymes that help move LDL from the blood and artery to the liver where it is digested or expels from the body.

Exercise increases the size of the proteins particles that carry cholesterol through the blood. Small particles are more prone to plaque formation inside the blood vessel.

People who exercise regularly may raise their HDL level along with lowers body fat. (13) And HDL helps to lower LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.

Remember to consult with your health care provider before starting a new exercise program especially if you are in certain health condition, is pregnant or not doing any exercise for a prolonged period.

Quit smoking:

It is always better to quit smoking as early as possible before causing any more harm to your health.

Limit your alcohol intake:

Excessive consumption of alcohol can raise your cholesterol level. (14) So, take control over consumption, enjoy life.

Heredity and specific health condition:

If you have a family history of high cholesterol levels including Familial hypercholesterolemia, or in some specific health condition, consult with a healthcare professional. Lifestyle changes may help to take control of such complications.

I hope this will give you some ideas about cholesterol. So, identify the bad, be happy, and enjoy life.

Disclaimer: Information provided here are generalized information for  
informational and entertainment purpose only,  not intended to provide one  
to one health consultation or replace practice of a qualified practitioner.  
Different people may have different health condition and may have different  
reaction to the same food. Hence it has been advised to consult with health  
care provider before application of any of above information
Source and references:
  1. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/how-its-made-cholesterol-
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11238802
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22390643
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19751443
  6. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19081406
  8. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc/causes
  9. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc/causes
  10. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-
  11. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000403.htm
  12. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000403.htm
  13. https://www.webmd.boots.com/cholesterol-management/high-cholesterol-
  14. https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/healthy_living.htm
Bikramjit Konwar

Author: Bikramjit Konwar


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