Can I Have High Cholesterol in My 20s or 30s?

The short answer to this question is: “Yes.”

Everything You Need to Know About High Cholesterol in Your 20s and 30s

Cholesterol is a substance made by your liver that is necessary for the production of hormones, vitamin D and bile salts, which play a role in digestion. This fat-like material has two primary forms: HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein). HDL is known as the “good cholesterol,” and the higher your level the better.

The amount of LDL, or “bad cholesterol,” in your body should be kept low. Specifically, LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL, although levels between 100 and 129 mg/dL are acceptable for individuals with no health concerns. An LDL reading of 130 to 159 mg/dL is categorized as “borderline high,” 160 to 189 mg/dL is “high,” and a reading of 190 mg/dL or above is considered “very high.”

High cholesterol is a condition typically associated with middle-aged and older adults. However, it is not uncommon for people in their 20s and 30s to have high cholesterol. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 95 million people age 20 and older have a cholesterol level at or above 200 mg/dL.

High Cholesterol Risk Factors and Strategies for Lowering LDL

Young adults are more likely to have high cholesterol if they have certain risk factors, including:

  • A family history of high cholesterol
  • A diet high in trans fats and saturated fats
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

While high cholesterol can lead to heart disease, the elevated level itself does not cause any symptoms. Consequently, it is important that adults 20 years of age and older have their cholesterol checked every five years. It should be noted that while people tend to associate high cholesterol with being overweight or obese, even individuals who are at or below their ideal weight can have high cholesterol.

To lower your LDL level you should:

  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight
  • Get regular aerobic exercise
  • Eat a diet low in trans fats and saturated fats, and high in soluble fiber, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy and lean protein
  • Avoid smoking
  • Consume alcohol in moderation, if at all

Treating High Cholesterol

For individuals who are unsuccessful in lowering their LDL level with lifestyle modifications, there is a class of drugs called statins that are effective in treating high cholesterol in both younger and older adults. If you are prescribed this type of medication, it is important that you take it as directed to help prevent a cardiovascular event.

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