Many factors can contribute to high blood cholesterol levels or cholesterol levels that are out of balance. Some of these factors are within your control, and some are not.
To some extent, your genetic make-up determines your cholesterol level.
Some people inherit a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia, which means that very high cholesterol levels run in the family.
Some people may simply be more likely than others to react to lifestyle factors (such as lack of exercise or a high-fat diet) that push up cholesterol levels.
Other people, especially people for whom diabetes runs in the family, inherit high triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are another type of blood fat that can also push up cholesterol levels.
Besides your genetic make-up, many lifestyle factors affect cholesterol levels and cholesterol balance:
What you eat. Eating too much saturated fat (the kind found in high-fat meats and dairy products) and cholesterol can cause your body to make more cholesterol, raising your blood cholesterol levels. You can lower your cholesterol level by cutting down on animal fat and other fats and eating foods rich in starch and fiber, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
How active you are. Regular exercise not only reduces total blood cholesterol, but it lowers the bad kind of cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) while raising the good kind of cholesterol (HDL cholesterol).
What you weigh. Being overweight contributes to rising blood cholesterol levels. Fortunately, changes to lower cholesterol levels also help you control your weight, a double benefit.
Your hormones. Women get a natural boost in their HDL cholesterol (the good kind of cholesterol) from their hormones until they reach menopause. After menopause, taking estrogen can help maintain higher HDL cholesterol levels.