The 4 Main Causes for High Levels of Bad Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that's essential for our cells, but an excess can build up in the arteries and cause cardiovascular diseases. Today we'll talk about the main causes of high levels of bad cholesterol.
The 4 Main Causes for High Levels of Bad Cholesterol

Last update: 12 September, 2019

Cholesterol is a substance that’s mostly produced by the liver, and it’s a part of the cellular wall. It’s a vital component for cell structures and the production of many hormones, such as sex hormones, and aldosterone.

What is bad cholesterol?

There are many different lipoproteins in charge of transporting cholesterol throughout the human body. We can classify these lipoproteins in two simple categories:

  • HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein): transports the built-up cholesterol from our tissues to the liver to destroy it.
  • LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein): transports cholesterol from the liver and deposits it in the peripheral tissues.

This last protein is what we know as bad cholesterol. Excessive amounts of LDL in our body can cause a higher deposit of cholesterol in peripheral tissues such as the arteries. This will eventually result in constricted arteries.

That’s how atheromatous plaques originate. They can cause severe cardiovascular pathologies, such as pulmonary embolisms or myocardial infarctions due to coronary artery occlusion (as these are the arteries that supply blood to the heart).

The 4 most common causes for bad cholesterol

In the following paragraphs, we’ll analyze the four most common causes that may result in high levels of LDL and what we can do to fix this. The goal is to prevent the consequences of maintaining these elevated cholesterol levels over a long period of time.

1. Sedentary lifestyle

A sedentary lifestyle is one of the biggest risk factors for cardiovascular disease for older individuals in the western worldIt’s a modifiable risk factor that we must fight against during each of our life stages.

A man eating junk food while sitting on the couch to exemplify a sedentary lifestyle as one of the causes for bad cholesterol

Not working out is linked to a higher body fat percentage and insulin resistance, a larger waist circumference and, as a result of all of this, higher levels of LDL in our tissues.

To fix this situation, it’s enough to start doing some sort of physical activity two to three times a week. This usually results in improvement regarding your LDL cholesterol levels within a short period of time.

You can progressively increase the physical activity you do to create a habit of working out. This habit will surely benefit your health.

2. A diet that’s high in saturated fats

Not eating a varied and balanced diet while consuming too many industrial pastries and processed foods that are rich in saturated and hydrogenated fats, can increase the levels of saturated fatty acids in your body. These are the main components of bad cholesterol.

As a consequence, your liver will produce more cholesterol. LDL will then transport it to the peripheral tissues, and more specifically, to the walls of your arteries.

Consuming too much of these types of foods usually goes hand in hand with a sedentary lifestyle, which is why both of these factors are associated with obesity. To fix this situation, we must educate ourselves and become aware of how important it is to eat a balanced diet for our health in the long run.

3. Tobacco use

Smoking is not only harmful to the respiratory system. The toxic substances in tobacco can severely scar the wall of the arteries, which makes it easier for cholesterol to accumulate in them.

4. Diabetes mellitus

Suffering from uncontrolled diabetes can cause us to have high blood sugar levels constantly. This hyperglycemia situation can increase the production of cholesterol in the liver. This means that more cholesterol will travel to our tissues and accumulate there.

A woman holding sever sugar cubes in one hand and making a thumbs down sing with the other

If you suffer from this condition, it’s a good idea to go see an endocrinologist so they can suggest the most appropriate treatment for diabetes. This will help to keep your blood sugar levels under control. Regular blood sugar levels are important to stop our bad cholesterol levels from increasing, as it could lead to other undesirable symptoms.

Good cholesterol

As we’ve explained before, good cholesterol (or HDL) carries the deposits of cholesterol in our tissues and transports them to the liver to transform them into their cellular components. Therefore, it’s important to focus on, not only decreasing our LDL levels, but increasing our HDL levels as well.

We can achieve this increase in HDL by consuming healthy fats rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. It’s also vital to increase our daily physical activity, since this usually goes hand in hand with an improvement in our HDL cholesterol levels.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Linton MF, Yancey PG, Davies SS, Jerome WG, Linton EF, Song WL, et al. The Role of Lipids and Lipoproteins in Atherosclerosis [Internet]. Endotext., Inc.; 2000 [cited 2019 Apr 13]. Available from:
  • Fernández-Friera L, Fuster V, López-Melgar B, Oliva B, García-Ruiz JM, Mendiguren J, et al. Normal LDL-Cholesterol Levels Are Associated With Subclinical Atherosclerosis in the Absence of Risk Factors. J Am Coll Cardiol [Internet]. 2017 Dec [cited 2019 Apr 13];70(24):2979–91. Available from:
  • Martin SS, Blumenthal RS, Miller M. LDL Cholesterol: The Lower the Better. Med Clin North Am [Internet]. 2012 Jan [cited 2019 Apr 13];96(1):13–26. Available from:
  • Kokkinos PF, Fernhall B. Physical Activity and High Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels. Sport Med [Internet]. 1999 Nov [cited 2019 Apr 13];28(5):307–14. Available from:

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.