Obesity is associated with chronic health issues such as insulin resistance, alterations in lipid metabolism, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. Research has repeatedly shown that higher body mass index (BMI) scores often result in greater abnormalities in lipid levels. The more overweight you are, the more likely you are to struggle with high cholesterol and triglycerides. Thankfully, weight loss is an incredibly powerful tool in lowering these levels while improving other cardiovascular health factors.
A high BMI can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system, with most deaths related to high BMI due to heart disease. Research shows approximately 60-70% of people who are obese have high cholesterol—while 50-60% of patients who are considered overweight have high cholesterol. Also, obesity in children and young adults leads to an increased prevalence of elevated triglycerides and decreased HDL (good cholesterol).
Losing weight can be effective in reducing your overall cholesterol levels. This reduction can bring about positive long-term health benefits, including improvements in heart health. It can also decrease your risk for diabetes and other metabolic health conditions. Here we explore the five most impressive ways losing weight can help impact your cholesterol levels.
Weight Loss Can Lower Your Overall Cholesterol Levels
Having a BMI above 25 kg/m2 is associated with having an elevated risk for heart disease. Losing weight can decrease your risk by lowering blood pressure, improving lipid profiles, and bringing your overall cholesterol levels down. While a modest weight loss of 5% can reduce overall cholesterol levels, losing 10% or more of your body weight has an even more significant impact.
While initial weight loss can effectively bring total cholesterol numbers down, maintaining that weight loss is also important. Research has shown that those who successfully sustain their fat loss have significantly lower total cholesterol than those who don’t. Those who gain the weight back tend to also see a corresponding rise in cholesterol levels (as well as other cardiovascular risk factors). This is why continuing with Stage 3 of the ShiftSetGo program for lifelong weight maintenance is so important.
Lower LDL (Bad Cholesterol)
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol. LDL is responsible for carrying cholesterol around the body. Unfortunately, some LDL particles can also build up in the artery walls, causing them to become stiff and narrow. This hardening can increase your risk for heart attack or stroke. You want to keep your LDL levels in an optimal range of less than 100mg/dL. Losing weight can effectively help lower LDL levels, thus decreasing the risk of forming harmful plaque.
It’s also important to note that it’s essential to look at the particle size when testing LDL levels. (The ShiftSetGo Advanced blood panel includes a particle size test!) Small, dense LDL particles are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular issues. Large, fluffy LDL particles do not appear to increase risk. Weight loss through calorie restriction or moderate-intensity exercise has been shown to reduce the number of small LDL particles in the blood.
Increase HDL (Good Cholesterol)
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) absorb excess cholesterol and transport it to the liver to be flushed out of the body. It also possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits that can help improve cardiovascular health. So keeping your HDL levels on the higher end of the optimal range (which is currently above 60 mg/dL for both men and women) is essential for peak health.
High levels of visceral fat (the fat around the organs in your abdomen) are directly linked to more elevated total cholesterol and LDL and lower HDL. And while weight loss of more than 10% of your body weight can help lower cardiovascular risk factors, losing that much weight has also been shown to lower HDL levels. Thankfully, there are several simple ways to help raise and keep those HDL levels up. These include:
- Exercise. One study found that walking or jogging just 9 miles per week can result in a 13% increase in HDL levels. Resistance training, and especially high-intensity workouts, can also positively impact HDL levels.
- Drinking alcohol, but only occasionally (1 glass per day for women and a max of 1-2 per day for men). Note: alcohol is only allowed in Stage 3 of the ShiftSetGo program!
- Eat more polyphenol-rich olive oil. You need to pay close attention when buying olive oil, as some reports have found that up to 70% of olive oil doesn’t meet standards. (We love this extra virgin olive oil from Kasandrinos.)
- Pass on the carbs. Reducing carb intake and increasing unsaturated fats (like that olive oil!) could help raise HDL almost twice as much as eating higher carbs and lower fat.
- Add color to your plate. Regularly including anthocyanin-rich foods in your diet—like blackberries, blueberries, elderberries, and black raspberries—can give your HDL levels a significant boost.
Lower Triglyceride Levels
Triglycerides are another type of lipid that circulate in the blood. Their primary responsibility is storing extra calories and providing energy when needed. Being overweight, inactive, or eating a poor diet high in refined carbs can cause your triglyceride levels to rise. High blood triglyceride levels have been shown to contribute to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome, inflammation, prothrombotic biomarkers, and type 2 diabetes.
Fortunately, weight loss is an effective means to help decrease high triglyceride levels. In 2016, a clinical trial compared the effectiveness of two different drugs and weight loss alone. Only one of the drugs appeared to be effective. After 12 weeks, when the successful drug was compared to the weight loss group, however, those in the weight loss group had comparable reductions in their triglycerides, without any adverse events. (Almost 16% of those in the successful drug group recorded an adverse event.)
Studies have also shown that losing weight may be the most effective, prescription-drug-free way to lower triglyceride levels, with a 5-10% reduction in body weight resulting in a whopping 20% decrease in triglycerides. Researchers have also estimated that roughly every pound of excess weight loss could result in a corresponding 1% decrease in triglycerides.
Weight Loss Can Help Keep You Off Cholesterol-Lowering Medications
Statins are the most commonly prescribed medications to help lower cholesterol. While they can effectively lower total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides, they can also come with unwanted side effects. More common side effects include muscle pain, headache, dizziness, digestive issues, and sleep problems. Rarer side effects can include:
- Memory issues.
- Hair loss.
- Inflammation of the liver or pancreas.
- Tingling in the hands and feet.
- Rhabdomyolysis (life-threatening muscle damage).
There is also some evidence that individuals who use statins may gain weight. According to the Mayo Clinic, females and those with hypothyroidism are among the groups who are at higher risk of experiencing side effects from statins.
Proponents of statins point out that these drugs can also be beneficial due to the fact that they have also been shown to raise HDL levels. Some studies, however, question if this is a benefit, especially to all patients, as HDL levels are not increased to the same degree in all users. Studies have also shown that statins can raise HDL levels by 3-15%. It’s important to remember that simply walking 9 miles per week has also been shown to increase HDL levels by a comparable 13%—without any of the potential side effects.
If you’re overweight and struggle with high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, weight loss can be a powerful tool to help lower overall cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides. It can also be an effective way to increase HDL cholesterol. And although statin medications can be helpful, they do not come without side effects, making weight loss through dietary changes and exercise a great first option.
As always, be sure to talk with your doctor to determine what options might work best for you and your personal health history. If you need help with the weight loss portion of your goals, contact us today. We are here to help!