How bad for you is high cholesterol?


Editorial Team


July 5, 2024

A young man and woman enjoying a meal of burgers and fries at an outdoor café, representing common dietary choices that may impact cholesterol levels.

Medical Review by Heidi Moawad MD


  • Cholesterol serves essential functions but too much of the wrong kind can be harmful. Too much LDL cholesterol or too little HDL cholesterol can increase your risk of various health conditions. 
  • High cholesterol levels can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease, and diabetes.
  • Diet, exercise, weight management, smoking, alcohol consumption and genetics can influence your cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol has its uses—but too much of the wrong kind is a problem

Lots of people worry about cholesterol, but not everyone understands what it is or how it works. Cholesterol actually plays a vital role in the body—but there are several different kinds of cholesterol, and having too much of the wrong type can lead to health problems.

Lemonaid Health can provide solutions to manage your cholesterol if appropriate.

The role of cholesterol in your body

Cholesterol fulfills several functions within the body:

  • Cell Structure: Cholesterol is a crucial component of cell membranes, providing stability and flexibility to cell structures.
  • Hormone Production: It serves as a precursor for the synthesis of hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol, which play essential roles in various bodily functions.
  • Bile Acid Synthesis: Cholesterol is necessary for the production of bile acids, which aid in the digestion and absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins in the intestines.
  • Vitamin D Synthesis: Cholesterol is a precursor for the synthesis of vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and various other bodily functions.

However, not all cholesterol is equally beneficial. Understanding the risks of high cholesterol also means differentiating between the different types that exist in your body and what they can do.

Clarifying “good” & “bad” cholesterol:

  • HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein): Often referred to as “good” cholesterol, HDL carries cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it can be processed and eliminated from the body. Higher levels of HDL are associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
  • LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein): Known as “bad” cholesterol, LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to the cells throughout the body. However, if too much LDL circulates in the blood, it can build up in the walls of arteries, leading to atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries), increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Triglycerides: Although not technically a type of cholesterol, triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood that can contribute to cardiovascular disease risk when elevated. High levels of triglycerides often coincide with high levels of LDL and low levels of HDL. They are influenced by dietary choices, physical activity, and genetics.

The health risks of high cholesterol

The following conditions can all be caused or made more likely when your cholesterol levels are too high:

Heart disease

High cholesterol levels, especially elevated LDL cholesterol, are a significant risk factor for heart disease. When LDL cholesterol builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscles, it forms plaque, which can narrow the arteries and restrict blood flow to the heart muscles. This can lead to chest pain (angina), heart attack, or other cardiovascular complications.


Just as high cholesterol can narrow the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscles, it can also affect the arteries supplying blood to the brain. If a blood clot forms in a narrowed artery or if a piece of plaque breaks off and blocks a blood vessel in the brain, it can lead to a stroke. Strokes can cause varying degrees of disability or even death depending on the severity and location of the blockage.

Peripheral Artery Disease

High cholesterol can also affect arteries outside of the heart and brain, such as those in the legs. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the legs and feet. This can result in cramping, cramping, fatigue, aching, pain or discomfort in the leg or hip muscles while walking or climbing stairs. 


While high cholesterol itself doesn’t cause diabetes, there is a strong correlation between the two conditions. People with diabetes often have unhealthy cholesterol levels, which further increases their risk of heart disease and other complications. Additionally, high cholesterol can contribute to insulin resistance, making it more difficult to control blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes.

Understanding your cholesterol levels

Interpreting cholesterol levels and lipid profiles can be crucial for assessing cardiovascular health. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Total Cholesterol: This number represents the sum of your HDL, LDL, and 20% of your triglyceride levels. Generally, lower total cholesterol is better for heart health.
  • HDL Cholesterol: Higher levels of HDL are considered better, as it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries.
  • LDL Cholesterol: Lower levels of LDL are desirable because high LDL levels can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries.
  • Triglycerides: Elevated triglyceride levels are associated with increased cardiovascular risk.

Recommended cholesterol ranges vary depending on individual health factors, but as a general guideline:

  • Total Cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL is desirable.
  • HDL Cholesterol: 60 mg/dL or lower is considered protective against heart disease.
  • LDL-C Cholesterol: Less than 100 mg/dL is optimal for most people, although those with existing heart disease may need even lower levels.
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL is considered normal.

How your lifestyle impacts your cholesterol levels

Your lifestyle plays a significant role in your cholesterol levels and overall cardiovascular health. Here are some tips for adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle:

  • Healthy Diet: Choose foods low in saturated and trans fats. Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats like those found in nuts, seeds, and olive oil. See Also: 10 Foods that are Good for Managing Cholesterol.
  • Regular Exercise: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week, along with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days per week.
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Losing excess weight can help improve cholesterol levels and reduce cardiovascular risk. Even modest weight loss can have significant health benefits. See Also: 10 High Cholesterol Foods to Avoid.
  • Quit Smoking: Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol and damages blood vessel walls, increasing the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.
  • Limit Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can raise triglyceride levels and contribute to weight gain. Limit alcohol intake to moderate levels, if consumed at all.

Managing your cholesterol with Lemonaid Health

The information we’ve provided above can help you make better choices about your diet and lifestyle, which is a great start towards keeping your cholesterol levels healthy. Our team at Lemonaid Health may be able to help you control your cholesterol through online consultations,  individualized treatment plans and prescribing of FDA-approved medication, if appropriate, to help you keep your cholesterol levels down. Learn more about our offerings today and enjoy lower cholesterol tomorrow.

  1. American Heart Association. (2021). Cholesterol and Diabetes. Accessed April 10, 2024, from–diabetes
  2. American Heart Association. (2024, January 10). Coronary artery disease. Retrieved from 
  3. American Heart Association. (2024, February 8). About peripheral artery disease (PAD). Retrieved from 
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  5. Lee Y, Siddiqui WJ. Cholesterol Levels. [Updated 2023 Jul 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from:
  6. Oliver M. F. (2000). Cholesterol and strokes. Cholesterol lowering is indicated for strokes due to carotid atheroma. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 320(7233), 459–460.


Editorial Team


July 5, 2024

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment or medication.