Medically Reviewed by Vincenta Faulkner, RD, CNSC, CCTD
When you picture someone with high cholesterol, who do you picture? What do they look like? No matter how tall they are or what hair color they have, the chances are that you imagined their body type to be overweight.
It's a valid association; the same things that can cause obesity also often cause high cholesterol, so most people with high cholesterol must be overweight, right? Not necessarily.
Obesity is indeed a leading risk factor for high cholesterol. However, higher weight is not the only risk factor for high cholesterol. In fact, your body weight and body type are not determining factors when it comes to your cholesterol levels.
If you are skinny, you could still have high cholesterol. In fact, sometimes, skinnier people can have even higher cholesterol levels.
What gives, then? Let's explore this topic more with Zizi.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy lipid that your body naturally makes to help with functions at the cellular level, including membrane support, hormone production, and pathway signaling.
Your body produces cholesterol in your liver and circulates it through your bloodstream. There are several types of cholesterol, including “good,” or HDL, cholesterol, and “bad,” or LDL, cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol carries the “bad” label because it deposits on your artery walls. Eventually, these deposits can lead to hardened plaque buildup — atherosclerosis — that causes narrowing and sometimes even blockages.
How Do I Know If My Cholesterol Is High?
You should check your cholesterol levels through a routine lipid test. This blood test will tell you biomarkers such as your HDL, LDL, and total cholesterol numbers.
You can compare your results against standard guidelines for healthy cholesterol levels. In general, as an adult, your total cholesterol levels should fall below 200 mg/ dL. Additionally, your non-HDL should be below 130 mg/dL and your LDL below 100 mg/ dL.
However, each unique individual is different and could receive numbers that fall outside the ranges yet still have healthy cholesterol levels.
How Often Should I Check My Cholesterol Levels?
General recommendations suggest that you should get your cholesterol tested for the first time when you turn 20 years old. After that initial test, if your levels are within normal limits, you should check again every four to six years.
However, if you have a family history of cholesterol or other risk factors such as high blood pressure, previous cardiovascular disease, or smoking, you should get your levels tested at an even earlier age.
Moreover, you may need to get your levels tested more often if you have other risk factors. We recommend that you talk to your doctor and develop a plan for how often you should do a lipid screening.
Why Is My Cholesterol High If I Am Skinny?
We usually see weight as a large indicator of health — we assume that someone who is thin or at a normal weight is healthier than someone who is larger in body type and overall weight. We also tend to assume that someone who is skinnier is less likely to develop diseases or illnesses.
However, this is not always the case — sometimes, skinnier people are just as likely, if not more predisposed, to have health problems. This is especially true when it comes to cholesterol levels. In fact, high cholesterol does not have a bias toward any body type or weight.
You can indeed have very high cholesterol levels yet be very thin; maybe your neighbor or cousin likewise is obese yet has low or normal cholesterol levels. What gives, then?
Body weight is not the sole indicator of health! The main answer is that there are other risk factors at play when it comes to cholesterol levels. Let’s look at some of these other risk factors that involve your lifestyle habits.
You Live a Sedentary Lifestyle
If you are naturally thin, you probably don’t always have exercise at the forefront of your mind because you are not trying to lose weight. However, when you live a more sedentary lifestyle that lacks a variety of physical movement, you actually increase the amount of unhealthy saturated fatty acids that circulate in your bloodstream. These increased saturated fatty acid levels can, in turn, lead to an increase in cholesterol levels.
Your Diet Is Not Heart-Healthy
Just as you might not exercise as much when you are thin because you do not need to lose weight, you also might not focus on a healthy diet. If you have a naturally thin body type and a lower body weight, you may be able to get away with eating more processed and refined carbohydrates, as well as saturated fatty acids, without it showing.
However, just because you might be able to eat these foods without gaining weight does not mean that it won’t impact your cholesterol. If you tend to reach for processed or fatty foods, it may be time to consider making your diet more heart-healthy.
You Drink Alcohol in Excess
Alcohol contains a lot of unnatural sugar, and excess alcohol consumption can contribute to higher cholesterol levels.
You Experience High Stress
Taking care of your body, especially when it comes to feeling well-rested and relaxed, is important! When you experience stress over extended periods, this truly does wear and tear on your body and can lead to physiological effects such as an increase in your cholesterol levels.
Make sure that you hydrate and take deep breaths throughout the day and make time for at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Additionally, if you work in a high-stress environment or experience anxiety, you should take plenty of time to decompress and have time to yourself.
You Have a Family History of Hypercholesterolemia
If you have a family history of hypercholesterolemia, your cholesterol may rise even in spite of a healthy or active lifestyle and balanced diet.
You Have Other Risk Factors
Other risk factors for high cholesterol include high blood pressure and high blood sugar/diabetes, as well as smoking.
How Much of a Role Does Genetics Play?
True, smoking, an unhealthy lifestyle, or other underlying conditions put you at risk for high cholesterol levels. However, your body also naturally produces cholesterol, and some people naturally produce more than others.
Unfortunately, higher natural cholesterol production is genetic and can be inherited — if you have a family history of high cholesterol, you are at a much greater risk for your body to naturally produce cholesterol at levels higher than the normal range.
This means that sometimes, no matter how healthy your lifestyle is or how skinny you are, your cholesterol might still be very high, and no diet or exercise plans could cure these high levels.
What Else Can I Do?
The answer is different for every person. Even if you don’t have a family history of hypercholesterolemia, your individual and unique body might still, unfortunately, produce higher levels of cholesterol.
As to what else you can do, there might not be much else when it comes to your lifestyle choices. If you already eat a healthy diet, exercise, and live a well-rested, mindful life, then you would not change much if you were to try to adjust your lifestyle choices to make them more heart-healthy.
You could try to take natural supplements for heart health, such as those rich in plant sterols. If this natural approach that supplements your lifestyle does not budge your cholesterol levels, then unfortunately you likely will need to go on statin medications.
You should talk to your doctor before you make this decision, but it really might be the only solution for you at this point.
Start on the Right Track With Zizi
Body weight and size are not the sole determining factors when it comes to your heart health! You can be the skinniest, most fit person alive yet still have cholesterol levels through the roof because high cholesterol depends on so many other factors.
Zizi aims to focus on natural ways to lower cholesterol first and foremost. At Zizi, you can talk to a dietician, gain access to personalized health and wellness plans, receive a supply of plant-based supplements, and engage in easy cholesterol testing and results.
Learn more about lowering your cholesterol in 30 days with Zizi’s Heart Health Reset program here, or your money back.
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