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Cholesterol and Your Weight

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on June 11, 2021

Carrying extra weight raises your chances of having too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol,” in your blood. That raises your chances of heart problems and other serious issues. Every 10 pounds you’re overweight causes your body to produce as much as 10 milligrams of additional cholesterol every day.

Losing weight can help lower cholesterol, and your chances of heart disease and diabetes.

How Obesity Raises Your Risk of High Cholesterol

Your body needs some cholesterol. Your liver makes the waxy substance to help build cells and store fat. Your body also uses it to make vitamin D, which is important for a healthy immune system.

The problem starts when there’s too much LDL in your bloodstream, a condition called hypercholesterolemia. That can create fatty deposits that build up (atherosclerosis), block your arteries, and eventually restrict blood flow. That could lead to a heart attack or stroke.

One reason being overweight or obese raises your odds of high cholesterol is because it affects the way your body makes and manages lipoproteins, including cholesterol and triglycerides -- another fatty substance, or lipid, your body needs in small amounts.

Triglycerides form in your liver from free fatty acids (fats) and a kind of glucose (sugar). If your body makes too many triglycerides, that can lead to higher levels of other lipoproteins as well, including cholesterol.

So being overweight or obese can raise your chances of high triglycerides and, in turn, high cholesterol because you’re more likely to:

  • Have increased fat tissue in your body, which means higher amounts of free fatty acids are delivered to your liver. This is especially true if you carry the extra weight around your middle.
  • Be insulin-resistant, which can also increase the amount of free fatty acids in your liver
  • Have inflammation throughout your body, which can affect the way your body manages HDL, or “good cholesterol,” and other lipoproteins

How Weight Loss Can Lower Cholesterol

Losing weight can help with your cholesterol levels because it can reduce the amount of fat you have in your body and make you less likely to have inflammation.

Losing weight and being more active can also reverse insulin resistance so your body is better able to regulate hormones and lipoproteins.

How Much Weight to Lose to Lower Your Cholesterol

Losing as little as 10 pounds can be enough to improve your cholesterol levels.

In one study, people who lost at least 5% of their weight significantly reduced their levels of LDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides. (Men who lost between 5% and 10% of their weight had better results than the women in the study who lost that amount.) But people who lost less than 5% of their weight only had lower levels of triglycerides.

What You Can Do to Lose Weight

Go low-fat: Stay away from saturated fats, which are found in red meat, and trans fats (listed as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”), found in margarine and baked goods. Check the labels of dairy products, too.

Watch your portions: One-quarter of your plate at meals should be filled with lean protein, and another quarter should be a multigrain starch (try brown rice or quinoa and sprouted grain bread). The remaining half should be non-starchy vegetables (make sure the label says “no salt added” if you use frozen or canned veggies).

Get active: As little as 20 minutes of exercise three times a week is all it takes. Start slow and build up to 30 minutes five times a week. Walking is a good way to get moving.

You should also:

Cut down on alcohol: If you drink, keep it to two per day for men or one per day for women.

Stop smoking: Sometimes when people quit smoking, they gain a few pounds. Don’t let the fear of that stop you. Smoking lowers your HDL levels. Even being exposed to secondhand smoke can be bad for your cholesterol level. You’ll be healthier overall if you quit.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Obesity Action Coalition: “Obesity and Lipid Abnormalities Fact Sheet.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Endoscopic Weight Loss Program.”

Top Doctors United Kingdom: “Lipidology.”

Hormone Health Network: “Lipids and Endocrine Disorders,” “Vitamin D.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Cholesterol Numbers: What Do They Mean,” “10 Tips For Lower Cholesterol,” “How to Quit Smoking Without Gaining Weight.”

Society For Vascular Surgery: “Hyperlipidemia.”

Heart UK: “Triglycerides,” “Looking After Your Weight.”

National Center For Biotechnology Information: “Obesity and Dyslipidemia,” “Weight Loss Is a Critical Factor To Reduce Inflammation,” “Effects On Cardiovascular Risk Factors of Weight Losses Limited To 5-10%.”

Mayo Clinic: “Weight Loss,” “Top 5 Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Cholesterol.”

American Diabetes Association: “All About Insulin Resistance,” “Non-Starchy Vegetables.”

CDC: “Can Lifestyle Modifications Using Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Reduce Weight and the Risk for Chronic Disease?” “Dietary Guidelines For Alcohol”

FamilyDoctor.org: “Lifestyle Changes To Improve Your Cholesterol.”

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