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School of Medicine
High cholesterol, or dyslipidemia, means that there is an imbalance of fats (lipids), circulating in your blood stream. Cholesterol is a fatty substance your body uses to make hormones and metabolize food.
Doctors use three different measurements to determine your overall lipid health:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad cholesterol” – if you have too much LDL, you may be at risk for cardiovascular disease. This type of cholesterol is linked to a buildup of plaque in your arteries, which can obstruct proper blood flow to the heart and other organs. The higher your LDL, the higher your risk of heart disease.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as “good cholesterol” – HDL brings cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver, which will remove the harmful cholesterol from your body. High HDL levels seem protective against heart disease, while low HDL is associated with increased risk of heart disease.
- Triglycerides – this term refers to fat in the blood. This is a kind of fat that people eat, found mostly in vegetable oil and animal fats. When it exists in high levels in your blood, it can signal increased risk for cardiovascular disease, because triglycerides also contribute to a buildup of plaque in your arteries.
High cholesterol and obesity
Understanding why some people have high cholesterol and some do not has a lot to do with the interplay of your genes coupled with your environment. Your genes and your environment—in this case, what you eat and how much you exercise—combine to form a baseline risk for developing high cholesterol. If you eat a diet that is high in fat, like high-fat meats, fried foods and high-fat cheeses, you are increasing your risk of both obesity and high cholesterol.
What is my risk for high cholesterol?
To understand your risk of developing high cholesterol, you will need to have a blood test so your doctor can measure the amount of lipids, or fats, in your blood. This is called a complete fasting lipoprotein profile and will include measurements for your low-density lipoprotein, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglycerides.
The table below demonstrates what cholesterol numbers are considered healthy, borderline and high risk for developing cardiovascular disease:
|Types of Cholesterol||Levels (mg/dL)||What does the level mean?|
Source: Third Report of the Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III), National Institutes of Health
How can I change my high cholesterol?
At Johns Hopkins, we use an approach to lower cholesterol that includes making small changes to your diet and exercise habits. Instead of changing your total intake of calories, we make suggestions about changes you can make to the types of foods you eat that will contribute to healthier cholesterol levels. However, if you do have extra body fat, studies suggest that weight loss helps reduce your LDL and triglycerides, while increasing your HDL. Exercise can also contribute to increasing your HDL levels, as well as eating more omega-3s, a good kind of fat.
Will having high cholesterol make it hard for me to lose weight?
No. In fact, some people who have high cholesterol are at a healthy weight. But, changing your diet to include healthier choices and following a routine exercise program can help you lower your cholesterol. If you are obese and have high cholesterol, losing weight should help lower your cholesterol, as well as your risk for other obesity-related conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Learn more about our weight loss services.