According to the CDC, 38% of Americans have high cholesterol. "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 diseases linked to high cholesterol, according to doctors. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
High cholesterol is strongly linked to Alheimer's disease and vascular dementia. "While the link between LDL cholesterol and dementia and Alzheimer's disease is modest and found in people followed up from middle age for over 10 years, any modifiable risk factor is welcome for this huge, burgeoning and devastating disease," says Dr Nawab Qizilbash, Senior Clinical Epidemiologist at OXON Epidemiology and Honorary Associate Professor in Pharmacoepidemiology at London School of Hygiene&Tropical Medicine. "Most of the known risk factors are difficult to modify and convincing evidence that their modification can prevent dementia or Alzheimer's disease is scarce. Likewise, long term follow-up (> 10 years) of randomized and non-randomized studies are needed to assess if the benefits of LDL cholesterol-lowering interventions – which greatly reduce coronary heart disease – may additionally reduce the risk of dementia or Alzheimer's disease."
Heart Attack and Stroke
High cholesterol can lead to heart attack and stroke, doctors say. "Mostly our body produces cholesterol, but you can also find cholesterol in plants," says cardiologist Dr. Leslie Cho. "Now, cholesterol, unfortunately, as we get older, our cholesterol level goes up, and in some of us, actually many, many of us, the cholesterol level becomes way too high. And that cholesterol, unfortunately, if it's not eliminated in our body, can lay down in our blood vessels causing heart attack and stroke and dementia."
High Blood Pressure
High cholesterol is linked to high blood pressure, as a result of cholesterol plaque causing arteries to harden. "It is important to note that "high cholesterol and high blood pressure tend to run together," says Dr. Kirley. "One doesn't necessarily cause the other, but it's very common to see both in an individual. And certainly, both of them contribute to raising somebody's risk for heart attack and stroke. The interventions to help—things like more physical activity and nutrition—can impact both your blood pressure and your cholesterol."
Studies show a link between high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. "Diabetes tends to lower 'good' cholesterol levels and raise triglycerides and 'bad' cholesterol levels, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. This condition is called diabetic dyslipidemia," says the American Heart Association.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and high cholesterol are closely linked, doctors warn. "Women worry about infertility, acne and weight gain but might not be thinking of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes," says Erin Michos, MD, associate director of preventive cardiology at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. "It's important to know that they're at an increased risk and how important diet and exercise is. Studies suggest that women with PCOS have a twice as likely risk of a future cardiovascular event, like a heart attack or stroke…. Everyone should follow a healthy lifestyle, but especially these women because they're at greater risk. In general, young women exercise less than young men. They're not thinking of their heart health; infertility and irregular menstruation are on their minds. These women need to be extra vigilant."