Dyslipidemia (or hyperlipidemia) is higher-than-average levels of lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) in the blood. The cause can be your genetics (primary causes) or it can be due to other metabolic diseases (secondary causes). While genetic causes cannot be treated, the secondary metabolic causes can certainly be worked on to lower the serum lipid levels; this reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
The common secondary causes of dyslipidemia (1-3)
1. Diabetes mellitus: Uncontrolled type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus is one of the most common causes of dyslipidemia. It has such a high impact that the treatment for high cholesterol is less effective if diabetes is not kept under control. (2)
2. Excessive alcohol intake: This is another common cause of high lipid levels in the blood. ‘Excessive alcohol’ is defined as drinking > 2 standard drinks per day on most days. On the other hand, research shows, moderate consumption of alcohol (typically one glass of red wine a day) may help increase good cholesterol in the body.(1)
3. High-carb diet: A high carb diet (i.e., when 60% or more of your daily food intake comes from carbs) is strongly linked to dyslipidemia. (3)
4. Kidney diseases: Some forms of kidney diseases (specifically chronic kidney disease or albuminuria) are also strongly associated with dyslipidemia. With higher amounts of kidney damage, the severity of hyperlipidemia is also higher. Also, people with these diseases also tend to have other coexisting conditions, which increase the risk of dyslipidemia.
5. Hypothyroidism: Low thyroid hormone in the blood, or hypothyroidism, affects metabolism in general, including fat metabolism. Therefore, if left untreated, there is a good chance that the lipid levels will shoot beyond the acceptable range. The good news is that treating hypothyroidism can contribute greatly to lowering lipid levels. (2)
6. Medication: Although quite a few medications can contribute to dyslipidemia, the most common ones are estrogen, in some form, certain drugs used to treat hypertension, antipsychotics, and certain steroids. (2) While individually these may not have a very high effect, combined with any of the aforementioned causes, the risk is multiplied.
7. Stress: While stress is frequently found in people with hyperlipidemia, whether it is a definitive cause or not has not been ascertained yet. What is sure, however, is that reduction of stress (by various means such as yoga, meditation, nature retreats or a combination thereof) helps decrease bad cholesterol levels.
Apart from genetic causes, most other causes of dyslipidemia can be treated. If you have any of these behaviours or conditions, and especially if you have more than one, it is time for some lifestyle modifications to reduce the risk of complications. Check out our article on how to manage or prevent dyslipidemia through lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise.
- Kopin L, Lowenstein CJ. Dyslipidemia. Annals of internal medicine. 2017 Dec 5;167(11):ITC81-96.
- Vodnala D, Rubenfire M, Brook RD. Secondary causes of dyslipidemia. The American journal of cardiology. 2012 Sep 15;110(6):823-5.
- Sweeney M. Hypertriglyceridemia: Practice Essentials, Pathophysiology, Etiology [Internet]. Emedicine.medscape.com. 2019 [accessed 17 April 2019]. Available from: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/126568