Cholesterol is a waxy substance that's made by the body and found in some animal-based foods. Blood cholesterol levels describe a group of fats also known as lipoproteins (lipids) which includes HDL-C, or "good" cholesterol and LDL-C or "bad" cholesterol. Cholesterol is important to overall health, but when LDL-C levels are too high, it can contribute to narrowed or blocked arteries. Unfortunately, people with diabetes are more prone to having high cholesterol, which contributes to cardiovascular disease (CVD). By taking steps to manage cholesterol, you can reduce your chance of CVD and premature death.
Your health care professional will do a blood test to measure your lipid levels. It assesses several types of fat in the blood. These are:
- Low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol = "bad" cholesterol
A high LDL-C level is associated with a higher risk for CVD. However, your LDL number should not be the main factor in guiding treatment to prevent heart attack and stroke. For people taking statins, it’s important to work with your health care team to manage your LDL. A diet high in saturated and trans fats can raise your LDL cholesterol.
- High-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol = "good" cholesterol
With HDL-C, higher levels are associated with a lower risk for CVD. Low HDL cholesterol puts you at higher risk for heart disease. People with high blood triglycerides usually also have lower HDL cholesterol. Genetic factors, Type 2 diabetes and certain drugs, such as beta-blockers and anabolic steroids, also lower HDL cholesterol levels. Smoking, being overweight and being sedentary can all contribute to lower HDL cholesterol.
Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. Normal triglyceride levels vary by age and sex. A high triglyceride level combined with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol is associated with atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in artery walls that increases the risk for heart attack, peripheral artery disease (PAD) and stroke.
How does diabetes affect cholesterol?
Diabetes tends to lower "good" cholesterol levels and raise triglycerides and "bad" cholesterol levels, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. This condition is called diabetic dyslipidemia.
Studies show a link between insulin resistance, which is a precursor to Type 2 diabetes, and diabetic dyslipidemia, atherosclerosis and blood vessel disease. These conditions can develop even before diabetes is diagnosed.
Learning how to prevent and treat abnormal cholesterol levels is an important step in maintaining optimum health.