The Effects of Obesity on Cholesterol Levels

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Being obese means you’re at least 20% over your ideal body weight. If this is you, you aren’t alone. More than 78 million American adults are obese. That’s slightly more than one out of every three adults.

For people who are obese, the issue is more than cosmetic. Obesity has dire effects on your health. It raises your risk of diabetes, stroke, arthritis, heart disease, and high cholesterol, to name a few. High cholesterol can be especially hazardous to your health because it’s a silent condition. It has no symptoms, so you aren’t aware of it unless your doctor tests for it.

Obesity is a risk factor for high cholesterol.

Being obese puts you at risk of high cholesterol levels. But it’s not just high cholesterol that’s the problem. It’s the specific changes in your cholesterol panel, a test that breaks down the different types of cholesterol and other blood fats. In obesity, triglycerides and LDL—or “bad”—cholesterol tends to be high. HDL—or “good”—cholesterol is too low. This increases your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

In fact, body weight has a direct association with cardiovascular risk factors, including high cholesterol. This means that as weight increases, so does LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Lifestyle choices contribute to both obesity and high cholesterol.

Sometimes, high cholesterol is an inherited condition. Other diseases, such as diabetes, can also contribute. But most cases of high cholesterol are due to two main lifestyle choices:

  • Eating foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol
  • Getting little to no exercise or physical activity

It’s no surprise that these two factors also often lead to obesity.

Obesity changes the way your body handles cholesterol.

If food choices play a big role in high cholesterol, it seems logical to decrease the saturated fats and cholesterol in your diet. It’s a smart move, but there’s a catch. Research shows that these dietary changes are less effective at improving cholesterol levels in obese people.

Obesity blunts your response to changes in the type of fats you eat. Obesity increases the amount of LDL cholesterol your liver makes. It also decreases clearance of LDL cholesterol from your blood. Research suggests a few ways this happens:

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