The Link Between High Cholesterol and PCOS

Those with PCOS should monitor their cholesterol regularly

Cholesterol and PCOS
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Cholesterol is a type of fat that is made by our bodies and ingested through our diet. Abnormal cholesterol levels are unhealthy and can contribute to cardiovascular disease. If you have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) your risk of cardiovascular disease is increased due to the higher prevalence of obesity and insulin resistance among women with PCOS. Approximately 70 percent of women with PCOS have dyslipidemia, which causes high levels of triglycerides (TG) and low levels of high-density lipoprotein HDL (good cholesterol).

Your doctor can diagnose abnormal cholesterol levels through a blood test. There are four major fat components that will be listed on your lipid panel: total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, high-density lipoproteins, and triglycerides.

Total Cholesterol

According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, total cholesterol levels should be less than 200 mg/dL (5.17 mmol/L). Levels between 200 mg/dL and 239 mg/dL (5.17–6.18 mmol/L) are considered borderline for  high cholesterol and levels at or above 240 mg/dL (6.21 mmol/L ) are considered high total cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels can put you at an increased risk for heart disease.

Low-density Lipoprotein ( LDL)

LDL is the bad form of cholesterol. It is produced by your liver and carried in your blood throughout your body. In high quantities, it can accumulate on the wall of the blood vessels and create blockages.

The current guidelines for LDL levels state that levels are:

  • Optimal when less than 100 mg/dL ( 2.6 mmol/L) 
  • Near or above optimal between 100 to 129 mg/dL (2.6 to 3.34 mmol/L)
  • Borderline high at 130 to 159 mg/dL (3.36 to 4.13 mmol/L)
  • High between 160 to 189 mg/dL (4.14 to 4.90 mmol/L)
  • Very high at or above 190 mg/dL (4.91 mmol/L)

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Triglycerides 

HDL is considered the “good” cholesterol.

In sufficient amounts, it keeps bad cholesterol from building up in the blood vessels. Your HDL level should be above 40 mg/dL (1.04 mmol/L). In this case,  low HDL levels may help to contribute to heart disease.

Triglycerides store fat in your bloodstream, which your body uses later as energy. When you have higher levels of triglycerides, your body stores them elsewhere to be used later. Triglycerides are typically elevated if you have insulin resistance. High triglyceride levels can increase your risk of developing heart disease. 

Treating High Cholesterol

If your cholesterol levels are abnormal, your physician may suggest some lifestyle changes to try and improve your levels.

Reducing your intake of saturated fat to less than 7 percent of your total calories is important. Sources of saturated fat typically include animal products such as red meat, processed poultry, and butter. Instead, replace saturated fat with unsaturated sources of fat such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which contain fiber and phytonutrients, is also important.

Additionally, including 2 grams each day of plant stanols, substances naturally found in fruits and vegetables, has been shown to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Losing weight, increasing activity or exercise, and quitting smoking are all interventions that work together to improve your cholesterol levels. However, if they are not effective, your physician may prescribe statins, a medication that works to lower cholesterol levels.

Sources:

Baldani DP, Skrgatic L, Ougouag R.Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Important Underrecognised Cardiometabolic Risk Factor in Reproductive-Age Women. Int J Endocrinol. 2015;2015

Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (PDF)

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