You may not be familiar with hyperlipidemia, but chances are you know someone who’s been affected by this condition — even if that person doesn’t know it. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), this disorder affects approximately 25 million Americans, and less than half receive treatment for the condition.
Hyperlipidemia often means very high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood — aka lipids (fat) — but because high cholesterol often presents without symptoms, many people don’t know that their cholesterol is too high. This makes is a frightening “silent killer.”
But while it’s a chronic condition, it can be reversed in most cases through healthy eating and regular exercise. Learn what you can do naturally to avoid or improve hyperlipidemia.
What Is Hyperlipidemia?
Hyperlipidemia is the medical term for having elevated lipid (fat) levels in the blood, specifically having total cholesterol levels above 240 mg/dL as well as high triglycerides.
Hyperlipidemia, or ICD-9 hyperlipidemia as it’s known to many medical professionals, can be classified as either familial or primary hyperlipidemia, which is caused by specific genetic abnormalities, or acquired or secondary hyperlipidemia when it results from another underlying factor, including metabolic syndrome, diet, physical inactivity and/or medication.
A diagnosis of hyperlipidemia is not the same as high cholesterol. Both involve too much fat in the bloodstream, but high cholesterol does not necessarily mean you have high triglyceride levels. Hyperlipidemia means that both your overall cholesterol and your triglycerides are high.
Cholesterol helps build cells and produce hormones in the body. Triglycerides are a type of fat the body utilizes to store energy as well as provide energy to your muscles. Having a high triglyceride level along with a high LDL cholesterol as one has with hyperlipidemia increases your chances of having heart disease more than having only a high LDL cholesterol level. Indeed, having high levels of lipids in your blood can narrow or block your arteries. The lipids can stick to and harden the walls of your arteries, as well.
Therefore, hyperlipidemia is a common condition associated with metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity, as well as being a cause of coronary artery disease, peripheral arterial disease and stroke. Having hyperlipidemia increases your risk for cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease (having fatty deposits in your blood vessels).
Similarly to hypertension or high blood pressure symptoms, hyperlipidemia can be a “silent killer” with no known signs or symptoms until you’re in serious trouble. Having both hyperlipidemia and hypertension increases risk of metabolic syndrome. If you have hyperlipidemia and hypertension and low HDL cholesterol, then you also have metabolic syndrome.
- Hyperlipidemia typically shows no symptoms and can only be detected by a blood test.
- Some people experience chest pain, especially if the hyperlipidemia is advanced and seriously affecting the arteries.
- Some symptoms that may occur in rare cases of hyperlipidemia can cause heart attack or stroke.
Risk Factors and Causes
Hyperlipidemia is usually the result of unhealthy lifestyle habits like smoking, poor diet and physical inactivity. Women older than 55 and men older than 45 are also more likely to be diagnosed with hyperlipidemia.
Some other things that can cause hyperlipidemia include:
- kidney disease
Familial combined hyperlipidemia is an inherited disorder that causes high cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides in the blood. According to a study published in Human Molecular Genetics, familial combined hyperlipidemia affects 1 percent to 2 percent of the population.
A family history of high cholesterol and early heart disease are risk factors for developing familial hyperlipidemia. Although familial combined hyperlipidemia is inherited, there are some factors that make it worse:
In general, to be considered low-risk for hyperlipidemia, your blood work should show the following results:
- HDL greater than 40 milligrams per deciliter
- LDL less than 130 milligrams per deciliter
- Triglycerides less than 200 milligrams per deciliter
- Total cholesterol less than 200 milligrams per deciliter
Hyperlipidemia can be inherited and increases the risk of disease of the blood vessels, which can lead to stroke and heart disease. Doctors most frequently and very quickly prescribe statins for anyone who has hyperlipidemia or high cholesterol.
But statins are not without very serious risks, including increasing your chances of developing diabetes — with studies finding that people who took statins were 71 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Medical doctors and healthcare professionals acknowledge that lifestyle changes are by far the best way to prevent and manage hyperlipidemia. So why are statins so commonly prescribed? It’s a simple yet sad answer: Most people aren’t willing to make significant (yet nonetheless possible) lifestyle changes that could replace the need for cholesterol-lowering drugs.
There’s no question that natural and controllable lifestyle changes are the best way to fight hyperlipidemia. Here’s what you can do to avoid or treat this condition today.
1. Change Your Diet
A high-fat diet full of inflammatory foods can worsen or increase your risk for hyperlipidemia. That’s why you want to eat anti-inflammatory foods and limited your consumption of damaging processed foods and ultra-processed foods.
Foods that Make Hyperlipidemia Worse
Avoid consumption of this list to prevent and/or overcome hyperlipidemia:
- Sugar and refined grain products — Both stimulate the liver to produce more cholesterol and increase inflammation.
- Packaged and processed foods of all kinds — Typically high in salt, sugar and unhealthy fats, you definitely want to stay clear of packaged and highly processed foods, which are consider high cholesterol foods.
- Hydrogenated fats — Vegetable oils are pro-inflammatory and may increase cholesterol.
- Trans fats — These increase LDL cholesterol, inflammation and risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Conventional dairy products (non-organic, homogenized and pasteurized) — Pasteurization and homogenization of dairy products alter their chemical structure, make fats rancid, destroy nutrients and result in the formation of free radicals in the body.
- Factory-farmed animal products — Industrial farming provides us with cheap but dangerously unhealthy animal meats and products.
- Too much caffeine — Too much caffeine can increase cholesterol levels. Limit coffee or tea to no more than one to two cups per day.
- Too much alcohol — Alcohol stimulates the liver to produce more cholesterol, increasing cholesterol levels and inflammation. For people with high triglycerides alcohol can be particularly dangerous. A glass of red wine per day may be cardioprotective, but anything more than that may increase your cholesterol.
Foods to Eat
- Omega-3 fats — Omega-3 foods can help increase good cholesterol and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. Fish rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids include sardines, tuna, salmon, herring and mackerel.
- Foods high in soluble fiber — Soluble fiber binds cholesterol in the digestive system, causing it to be excreted by the body. Aim to consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, sprouted nuts and seeds, and other high-fiber foods.
- Olive oil — Real, high-quality extra virgin olive oil has well-researched anti-inflammatory compounds, antioxidants and numerous heart-healthy macronutrients. It also boosts “good” HDL cholesterol.
- Garlic and onions — These two cholesterol-lowering foods help reduce LDL cholesterol because of their sulfur-containing compounds that help cleanse the arteries.
- Apple cider vinegar — Consuming just one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per day can naturally lower your cholesterol. Apple cider vinegar has been shown to increase bile production and support your liver, which is responsible for processing cholesterol.
- Herbs — Add a variety of spices to your daily diet, such as basil, rosemary and turmeric, which all contain antioxidants that are cardioprotective and help lower cholesterol naturally.
2. Fish Oil
EPA and DHA (omega-3 fatty acids) found in fish oil help reduce overall cholesterol levels, which in turn can help stave off this condition.
A 2015 study examined 80 people to determine if fish oil benefits people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) associated with hyperlipidemia. The participants were randomly assigned to take fish oil or corn oil daily for three months. Of the 80 original participants, 70 completed the trial, and researchers found “that fish oil can benefit metabolic abnormalities associated with NAFLD treatment.”
3. Red Yeast Rice
Red yeast rice is a substance that’s extracted from rice that’s been fermented with a type of yeast called Monascus purpureus. It contains the naturally occurring chemical monacolins, which block the production of cholesterol. It’s been used in China and other Asian countries for centuries as a traditional medicine.
Scientific studies have demonstrated that supplementing with red yeast rice can lower overall as well as LDL cholesterol, aka “bad cholesterol.”
Niacin (vitamin B3) reduces LDL cholesterol by 25 percent and increases good cholesterol by 35 percent, which is why you want to include niacin foods in your diet.
Duke University’s Department of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology found that niacin helped improved diabetic conditions in people with new-onset diabetes resulting from hyperlipidemia, showing it can treat this condition and also treat diabetes.
Chromium is needed for normal metabolism of fats, including cholesterol. Research shows a link between higher chromium intake and healthier arteries and levels of blood cholesterol. Some studies even show that people who die from heart disease tend to have lower levels of chromium in the blood at the time of death.
One animal study out of Turkey published in Human & Experimental Toxicology found that chromium combined with niacin treatment improved the condition of hyperlipidemic rats, concluding chromium along with niacin may “induce a protective effect on heart tissue.”
6. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle benefits heart health and helps lower high cholesterol levels by lowering inflammation, cleaning the blood and preventing oxidative stress damage within the arteries. Studies show that milk thistle appears to be especially beneficial to diabetics suffering from hyperlipidemia.
If you have a hard time consuming garlic in your diet, you can also take garlic in supplement form. It increases HDL cholesterol and lowers total cholesterol.
A 1993 meta-analysis of controlled trials using garlic to reduce cholesterol levels found that garlic does, indeed lower total cholesterol. Researchers concluded that, “The best available evidence suggests that garlic, in an amount approximating one half to one clove per day, decreased total serum cholesterol levels by about 9 percent in the groups of patients studied.”
Follow-up research has discovered that this effect may be due, in part, to garlic’s ability to slow down cholesterol synthesis and re-circulation in the liver and also to garlic’s antioxidant potential.
A top and crucial way to keep your blood lipid profile in a healthy state is to exercise. Exercise with weight training and high-intensity interval training can boost human growth hormone, which can improve HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
9. Lose Weight
If you carry extra weight around, you’ll want to work on losing weight. A weight loss of just 10 percent can go a long way to lowering your risk of or reversing hyperlipidemia. One study indicated that patients who lost 5 percent to 10 percent of their starting weight also saw significant reductions in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
10. Quit Smoking
Smoking cigarettes is directly related to an increase in bad cholesterol and triglycerides, therefore quitting is key to improving hyperlipidemia.
- Hyperlipidemia is a common condition associated with metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity, as well as being a cause of coronary artery disease, peripheral arterial disease and stroke. Like hypertension or high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia can be a “silent killer” with no known signs or symptoms until you’re in serious trouble.
- Hyperlipidemia is usually the result of unhealthy lifestyle habits like smoking, poor diet and physical inactivity. Women older than 55 and men older than 45 are also more likely to be diagnosed with hyperlipidemia.
- Some of the lifestyle changes that decrease the chances of and reduce hyperlipidemia include losing weight, quitting smoking, reducing/avoiding alcohol and caffeine, increasing healthy foods, decreasing unhealthy foods, and exercising more.