Overweight and obese individuals are at risk for higher levels of cholesterol in their blood, which increases their risk for cardiovascular disease. For this reason, weight loss is often recommended to help lower cholesterol. While weight loss is an effective tool at lowering cholesterol, it may temporarily raise cholesterol, although this effect is not permanent.
Types of Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a steroid with several functions in the body including repairing cell membranes, production of Vitamin D and producing hormones. While two-thirds of cholesterol is produced in the liver, diet can affect cholesterol production. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is also known as “bad” cholesterol because once oxidized it can damage arteries and produce an inflammatory response. High-density lipoprotein, HDL, or "good" cholesterol, removes cholesterol from the arteries, prevents oxidation of low-density lipoprotein and may help inflammation. Lack of exercise, obesity, and a diet high in red meat, high-fat dairy, fried foods, and sugars can increase low-density lipoprotein and lower high-density lipoprotein.
Diet and Weight Loss May Lower Cholesterol
A review published in “Obesity” in 2004 looked at several long term studies and found a significant correlation between weight loss and lower cholesterol. Research published in “The American Society for Nutritional Sciences” in 2004 compared two low fat diets. One was high in protein and one was high in carbohydrate. At the end of the study, both diets significantly reduced fat mass by 9 to 11 percent and both diets significantly reduced total cholesterol from 10 to 12 percent. However, several subjects following the high carbohydrate diet dropped out due to hunger. Thus, a high protein diet may help control hunger, promote weight loss and lower cholesterol.
Weight Loss with Exercise May Lower Cholesterol
Losing weight with exercise may also help lower cholesterol. A Japanese study published in the "Journal of the American Heart Association" in 2004 had female subjects engage in aerobic exercise. Their exercise regimen included an 80 minute dance workout followed by bicycle or treadmill exercises for 30 to 60 minutes twice a week. Subjects also worked out at least once a week at home in addition to the aerobic exercise. After two months, subjects experienced an average 3 to 4 percent loss in body weight. Total cholesterol was reduced by an average of 9 percent while low-density lipoprotein was reduced by approximately 9.6 percent.
Weight Loss May Raise Cholesterol Temporarily
Although research indicates that weight loss will lower cholesterol, some people may experience a rise in cholesterol as they lose weight, because as weight is lost, fat stores shrink. The fat and cholesterol normally stored in fatty tissue have nowhere to go but the bloodstream, causing a rise in cholesterol. This effect is not permanent and cholesterol levels will drop as your weight stabilizes. Medications used to to treat high cholesterol, such as Z-hydroxy-Z-Coa reductase inhibitors, are not effective in controlling cholesterol when it comes from fatty tissue stores.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Separate Effects of Reduced Carbohydrate Intake and Weight Loss on Atherogenic Dyslipidemia
- The Management of Eating Disorders and Obesity; David J. Goldstein
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Cholesterol
- Obesity: Effects of Weight Loss in Overweight/Obese Individuals and Long-Term Lipid Outcomes – A Systematic Review
- The American Society for Nutritional Sciences: High-Protein, Low-Fat Diets Are Effective for Weight Loss and Favorably Alter Biomarkers in Healthy Adults
- Journal of the American Heart Association: Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology