Liver and cholesterol: What’s the link?

Cholesterol is a fatty molecule that is found in some foods as well as being made in the liver.

There are two primary forms of cholesterol, one that is useful to the body, and one that can build up and cause health problems.

What are healthy levels of cholesterol?

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) are the two main types of cholesterol.

Scientists measure levels of cholesterol in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest the following as healthy levels of cholesterol:

  • LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL
  • HDL should be 40 mg/dL or higher

What does HDL do?

HDL takes cholesterol from the cells in the body to the liver. The liver breaks it down or passes it out of the body as a waste product.

This function is useful to the body, so HDL is sometimes called “good cholesterol.”

What does LDL do?

LDL takes cholesterol from the liver to the cells. Cells use cholesterol but too much can build up in the arteries.

This buildup in the arteries can cause health problems so that doctors sometimes refer to LDL as “bad cholesterol.”

Effects of high cholesterol

When a person has high levels of LDL, they are often referred to as having “high cholesterol.” This condition can increase the risk of developing several health problems.

Cholesterol can build up in the arteries, which are the major blood vessels in the body. They can become narrower, as a result, which restricts the supply of blood and oxygen to the organs.

Narrowing of the arteries can also increase the risk of blood clots.

If blood flow to the heart is restricted, it can increase the risk for coronary heart disease. This includes angina, heart attacks, and heart failure.

If blood flow to the brain is restricted, it can increase the risk of stroke.

Can liver disease cause high cholesterol?

There are many different liver diseases.

Hepatitis, alcohol-related liver disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD are some of the most common liver diseases.

Liver disease causes damage to the liver, which can mean that it is not able to work as well.

One of the functions of the liver is to break down cholesterol. If the liver is not working properly, it can cause cholesterol to build up in the body.

How does cholesterol impact the liver?

A diet can create fat around the liver if it is high in cholesterol. This scenario can lead to NAFLD, which may result in liver damage long-term.

NAFLD can increase the risk of health problems, such as a stroke or diabetes. If the condition is found and treated at an early stage, it is often possible to stop it from getting worse.

A person can also reduce the amount of fat in their liver at an early stage.

Usually, high cholesterol does not cause any symptoms.

But a simple blood test measures cholesterol levels.

A doctor may recommend a cholesterol test if a person has a family history of heart disease, a medical condition such as diabetes, or if they are overweight.

A liver biopsy or liver function test is usually used to diagnose liver disease.

A biopsy will remove a tiny piece of liver tissue to test for disease. A liver function test is a blood test that can measure proteins and enzymes in the blood.

The levels of these proteins and enzymes can show if the liver is damaged.

What are the treatment options?

A person can make lifestyle changes and sometimes take medication to treat high cholesterol. Usually, they will be encouraged to make changes to diet and exercise first. If they are overweight, they may be advised to lose weight.

A doctor may prescribe medication if these changes do not lower cholesterol after a few months.

The most common medication is statins, which a person needs to take for life. Statins are drugs that block a chemical in the liver that makes cholesterol.

Treatment for liver disease depends on what type of liver disease a person is experiencing. It will usually involve lifestyle changes, medication, or sometimes, a liver transplant if the liver is too damaged to function.

A person can help prevent health problems, such as damage to the liver, by reducing high levels of LDL cholesterol.

They can lower cholesterol by eating a healthful diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Saturated fats contain a high level of cholesterol.

Many fast foods, cakes, butter, fatty meats such as sausages, full-fat cheese, and cream contain saturated fats.

Taking regular exercise can help to lower a person’s cholesterol. Giving up smoking can also be beneficial.


Making changes to diet and exercise are ways a person can manage high cholesterol. And they will need to maintain these changes to avoid high cholesterol returning.

The liver can repair itself up to a certain point. This means that someone may be able to reduce the damage that has been done if they discover liver disease at an early stage.

Losing weight if needed, eating a healthful diet, exercising, and cutting down on alcohol can help to reduce the impact of liver disease.

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