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What causes high cholesterol?

High cholesterol levels are due to a variety of factors including heredity, diet, and lifestyle. Less commonly, underlying illnesses affecting the liver, thyroid, or kidney may affect blood cholesterol levels.

 Heredity:
Genes may influence how the body metabolizes LDL (bad) cholesterol. Familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited form of high cholesterol that may lead to early heart disease.
Weight:
Excess weight may modestly increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol level. Losing weight may lower LDL and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Physical activity/exercise:
Regular physical activity may lower triglycerides and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Age and sex:
Before menopause, women usually have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. As women and men age, their blood cholesterol levels rise until about 60 to 65 years of age. After about age 50 years, women often have higher total cholesterol levels than men of the same age.
Alcohol use:
Moderate (1-2 drinks daily) alcohol intake increases HDL (good) cholesterol but does not lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Drinking too much alcohol can damage the liver and heart muscle, lead to high blood pressure, and raise triglyceride levels.
Mental stress:
Several studies have shown that stress raises blood cholesterol levels over the long term. One way that stress may do this is by affecting your habits. 
For example, when some people are under stress, they console themselves by eating fatty foods. The saturated fat and cholesterol in these foods contribute to higher levels of blood cholesterol.