Is cholesterol your friend or your foe? While cholesterol is vital for human health and performs essential functions in the body, too much can raise the risk of serious health conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. "Overall, cholesterol is important for our bodies. We use cholesterol to do a variety of things," says Kate Kirley, MD. "Our body creates cholesterol whether we eat it or not and it's good to have for certain functions within our bodies. But there are some types of cholesterol that are potentially helpful and protective. We usually think of HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, cholesterol as somewhat protective for our hearts and blood vessels because it absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver. We tend to think of LDL cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, as the main type of cholesterol that we focus on as a potentially harmful cholesterol for our hearts because it collects in the walls of your blood vessels." Here are five signs your cholesterol is reaching dangerous levels, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Does High Cholesterol Run In the Family?
People with a family history of high cholesterol should exercise caution, doctors say. "Oftentimes, one of the biggest factors that determines your cholesterol levels is your genes," says Dr. Kirley. "How your genes affect your cholesterol is pretty complicated, but it's safe to say that high cholesterol tends to run in families. For most people, genetic testing isn't necessary or helpful unless they have very high cholesterol levels. And because genes are something we can't change this is why medications are an important tool for treating high cholesterol."
You're Overweight or Obese
Being overweight is linked to high cholesterol, according to doctors. "There are plenty of people who have diabetes, have high blood pressure and have high cholesterol, but have a normal weight," says Theodore Feldman, M.D. "Also, there are many people who are obese who have normal blood pressure, normal blood sugar and normal cholesterol. Having said that, though, the greater your weight, the more likely you are to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes or heart disease."
You're a Smoker
Smoking cigarettes is strongly correlated with high cholesterol. "If you are overweight or obese or a smoker, then it becomes even more important that you know your numbers because if you more favorably impact your medical dashboard — and you're in a higher-risk lifestyle group — then the higher the benefit you will get," says Dr. Feldman.
Women are at Risk
Studies show women especially have high cholesterol and aren't aware of it. "Approximately 45 percent of women over the age of 20 have a total cholesterol of 200 mg/dl and above, which is considered elevated—but a survey by the American Heart Association found that 76 percent of women say they don't even know what their cholesterol values are," says Erin Donnelly Michos, M.D., M.H.S. "A high level of triglycerides seems to predict an even greater risk for heart disease in women compared with men."
The #1 Sign of High Cholesterol—See Your Doctor
The only way to know for sure what your cholesterol levels are is to have them checked by a doctor. "If you have a family history of early heart disease, it's really important to talk to your doctor," says Dr Cho. "Even if you're going to start natural ways to lower your cholesterol, it's really important to talk to your doctor because it's a conjunction, it's a partnership." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.