Hyperlipidemia: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

What is Hyperlipidemia?

Hyperlipidemia is a condition whereby lipid levels (fat levels) in the blood are too high. There are various different types of hyperlipidemia and other lipid disorders. Hypercholesterolemia is one of the most common, which refers to elevated levels of LDL-cholesterol in the blood. Hyperlipidemia can also be caused by low levels of HDL-cholesterol, which is the healthy form of cholesterol (x).

When left untreated, hyperlipidemia can cause a wide range of different medical conditions. For example, hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis are linked, as elevated lipid levels can cause lipids to form plaques in the arteries (x).

Although diet and lifestyle likely play a large role in hyperlipidemia, researchers are beginning to understand that the causes of the condition are much more complex than initially believed. Some cases of hyperlipidemia may be genetic where diet plays a much smaller role (x).

Familial combined hyperlipidemia is a condition where people have elevated cholesterol levels at a young age. They are also much more likely to have heart attacks and strokes in their 20s and 30s (x).

Dyslipidemia vs. Hyperlipidemia

These two terms are often used interchangeably. However, they are not exactly the same thing. Dyslipidimia refers to any abnormal level of lipids in the blood, both high and low (x). Hyperlipidemia is a specific type of dyslipidemia where lipid levels are elevated.

Causes of Hyperlipidemia

Saturated Fats

The main causes of hyperlipidemia lifestyle based. Saturated fats in the diet can significantly increase cholesterol levels in the blood, as well as disrupt the balance of HDL and LDL cholesterol (x).

Saturated fats are found in many foods, including red meat, pork and dairy products.

Trans Fats

Trans fats are found in many processed foods, including things like cookies and chips. They can increase both LDL and HDL cholesterol, increasing the risk of developing heart disease and other cardiovascular issues (x).


Diabetes and hyperlipidemia are closely linked. Changes in fat production and storage associated with diabetes can affect blood lipid levels, leading to elevated levels of LDL-cholesterol and lower levels of HDL-cholesterol (x).


High cholesterol can, in some cases, be caused by genetics. Familial combined hyperlipidemia is a condition where high cholesterol is caused by genetic factors, rather than diet alone. Unlike standard cases of hyperlipidemia, those with this condition often have high cholesterol in their teens and 20s (x).

People with familial combined hyperlipidemia are more likely to develop heart problems at a young age. They are at an increased risk of both heart attacks and strokes.


Obesity can contribute to high cholesterol levels. Increased weight makes it more difficult for the body to properly break down sugars and fats and can alter the levels of lipids found in the blood. This can lead to hyperlipidemia.

Lack of exercise can also impact fat stores in the body and lead to changes in the lipid concentrations in the body.


It’s not known if aging directly leads to higher cholesterol levels. However, as people age, cholesterol levels tend to increase (x).


Alcohol and hyperlipidemia are closely linked, with alcoholics significantly more likely to develop high cholesterol (x).

Prolonged periods of alcohol consumption have been shown to significantly increase cholesterol levels.

Hyperlipidemia Causes

Symptoms of Hyperlipidemia

Although hyperlipidemia is easy to diagnose with proper screening, there are few noticeable symptoms. Hyperlipidemia takes time to cause health problems such as heart disease and atherosclerosis. Without further health complications, it can be difficult to know that you are hyperlipidemic.

Some genetic hyperlipidemias may have more noticeable symptoms. Lipoprotein deficiency syndrome is a genetic condition where the body has dangerously high levels of triglycerides. Lipoprotein deficiency symptoms include nausea, abdominal pain and loss of appetite (x).

The best way to ensure that your lipid levels are within the healthy range is to have a blood lipid screen done. If you do not have increased risk of hyperlipidemia, you should be screened no more than once every five years. Those who are taking statins or other medication to control hyperlipidemia should have a lipid panel done every year (x).

Treatment of Hyperlipidemia


The primary treatment option for high cholesterol is a type of medication called statins. They block molecules that are needed to produce cholesterol. They also help the body reabsorb cholesterol that has formed into plaques in the arteries, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes (x).

Lipitor is the most commonly used statin. However, there are a number of lipitor alternatives, including pravachol and zocor.

Statins are generally safe and well tolerated by most patients. However, they do come with a few side effects, especially as the body adjusts to the medication. These side effects include headaches, nausea and muscle aches.

Cholesterol Absorbing Inhibitors

Cholesterol is reabsorbed by the body in the small intestine, making it difficult to lower levels. Zetia is a cholesterol medicine that works to block the absorption of cholesterol in the lower intestine (x).

Zetia and other cholesterol absorbing inhibitors are often used alongside statins.

Injectable Cholesterol Medicine

There are a number of new injectable cholesterol medicines that help target specific types of cholesterol, making them more efficient.

These drugs are PCSK9 inhibitors, which helps the liver absorb higher levels of LDL cholesterol, the “bad” type of cholesterol. Since they directly target LDL in the blood, they can lead to quicker decreases in circulating cholesterol levels (x).

Injectable cholesterol medicines are often used by people who have statin allergies, or by those with genetic conditions that cause high levels of LDL in the blood.


The best way of reducing high cholesterol is with dietary interventions. Most doctors will recommend that you completely eliminate trans fats from your diet, and that you cut back significantly on saturated fats.

A healthy diet for those with hyperlipidemia consists of whole foods such as brown rice, fish, lean meat, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil and avocados, are also a good way of regulating fats in the body (x).

These take time to be effective, so medication may be used as you adjust to a new diet.


Excess weight is associated with higher cholesterol levels. Exercise can help you shed weight and regulate lipid concentrations in the blood, leading to a lower risk of hyperlipidemia.

Living with Hyperlipidemia

Although hyperlipidemia can be dangerous when left unaddressed, there are a number of ways that you can live with the condition.

The main way of living with hyperlipidemia is dietary change. Even with medication, most people will also need to change what they eat to prevent cholesterol levels from increasing again.

Doctors recommend that you cut trans fats from your diet, and that you also reduce levels of saturated fats. Other fats, such as the unsaturated fats found in olive oil, are a healthy addition to your diet, and may be able to lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Smoking can increase the effects that bad cholesterol has on your body, making it more likely that you develop heart disease (x).

Taking steps to lower high cholesterol can reduce the risk of a number of medical conditions. Cholesterol and strokes are strongly linked, as are cholesterol and heart disease. A better diet and exercise regimen can reduce the risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke.

Supplements for Hyperlipidemia

In addition to standard pharmaceutical treatments, there are a number of herbal supplements that may be effective for controlling high cholesterol.

Pure Astragalus Extract Powder

Astragalus is an herb that has long been used to treat heart conditions in traditional Chinese medicine. Research has shown that it may be effective for lowering cholesterol levels.

Studies in mice showed that astragalus lowered both total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels (x).

Astragalus powder has few common side effects, although it can cause stomach discomfort in some users. To avoid any stomach pain, take astragalus with food.

Hawthorn Berry Extract Powder

Hawthorn berry extract is used for its antioxidant properties. It’s also effective for reducing cholesterol levels.

Studies in mice have shown that hawthorn berry extract lowers LDL-cholesterol levels in the blood (x).

Milk Thistle Extract Powder

Milk thistle has a wide range of health benefits, including supporting liver health and supporting weight loss. It also has been shown to be effective for keeping cholesterol levels down.

Patients with diabetes who were treated with milk thistle showed significantly lower levels of cholesterol than patients who did not receive the treatment (x).

Red Yeast Rice Extract Powder

Red yeast rice may be effective for regulating cholesterol levels. It contains monacolin K, which is an ingredient found in certain statins (x).

Monacolin K can reduce cholesterol levels and lower the risk of developing heart disease.

When selecting a red yeast rice extract powder, check purity levels. Some are diluted, making them almost entirely ineffective for treating hyperlipidemia.

Pure Niacin

Niacin also known as vitamin B3, can help the body regulate cholesterol levels. Niacin also promotes HDL-cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol, balancing triglycerides and improving heart health (x).

Flaxseed Extract Powder

Flaxseed is used for its wide range of health benefits, including regulating triglycerides.

Flaxseed extract powder was shown to be effective for reducing total cholesterol levels, as well as significantly lowering LDL-cholesterol (x).

Berberine HCL Powder

Berberine is one of the most effective natural treatments for both high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Berberine HCL powder regulates LDL-cholesterol in the blood, helping the body to absorb more harmful cholesterol molecules and remove them from the blood (x).

The Bottom Line

Hyperlipidemia, is a common (and sometimes serious) medical condition characterized by an excess of lipids or lipoproteins in the blood.

There are multiple different types of hyperlipidemia. With hypercholesterolemia, there is too much LDL-cholesterol in the blood. With other forms of hyperlipidemia, there isn’t enough HDL-cholesterol — the “good” cholesterol — in the blood. Hyperlipidemia can significantly increase the risk of developing a wide range of cardiovascular problems. It also makes it more likely that you’ll have a stroke, develop atherosclerosis, or get heart disease.

Luckily, there is a wide range of natural supplements that are effective for treating hyperlipidemia. Flaxseed extract has been shown to regulate blood lipids. Niacin promotes HDL-cholesterol in the body, maintaining a healthy balance of lipids. Milk thistle, hawthorn berry and astragalus have all been shown to reduce levels of LDL-cholesterol in the blood.

Author: Ryan Quigley
Graduate of Longwood University in Virginia. Part-time sports journalist covering the Vegas Golden Knights.