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Cholesterol and Diabetes


Updated June 21, 2014

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of lipid (or fat) that, among other important functions, builds cell membranes in the body. While some cholesterol is obtained through diet, the body synthesizes most of it.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol,” can increase the risk of heart attacks, diabetes and other health problems. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is often called “good cholesterol” because it helps move cholesterol out of the bloodstream. Triglycerides are a type of fat that can signal risks of a heart attack or a stroke. Too much “bad cholesterol” in the bloodstream increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. People with diabetes often have high levels of “bad cholesterol” and low levels of “good cholesterol.”

How Is Cholesterol Tested — and How Often?

Cholesterol testing is usually combined with other tests, such as triglyceride testing, to develop an overall “lipoprotein profile.” It is important to fast for eight to 12 hours before the test, after which blood will be drawn and analyzed. A person with heart disease or diabetes should ideally have an LDL cholesterol level below 100 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). For those with no known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, it should be less than 160 mg/dL. HDL cholesterol should be more than 40 mg/dL, while triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dL.

In general, cholesterol testing as a screening tool is recommended every five years, according to The American Academy of Family Physicians. More frequent cholesterol checks may be required for those with risk factors (such as diabetes) for heart disease.

What Is the Treatment for Cholesterol Problems?

Lifestyle changes can go a long way in helping to control cholesterol levels. The American Diabetes Association recommends these tips:
  • Eating less saturated fat, which is found in fatty meats, chicken skin, non-skim milk, ice cream, cheese and many snacks
  • Eating foods high in fats that help to lower cholesterol levels, such as fish, olive oil and nuts
  • Eating foods high in fiber, such as oatmeal, fruit, vegetables, dried beans and peas
  • Exercising and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Not smoking
There are also medications that lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and increase “good” cholesterol (HDL). Some researchers believe that, as a protective measure, people over the age of 40 who have diabetes should take statins (drugs that help lower cholesterol), even if their cholesterol levels are normal. People with diabetes should talk to their health care providers about the best treatment.


"Can Statin Medications Help Reduce Effects of Heart Attacks?" Diabetes.org. 2006. American Diabetes Association. 27 Sep 2007 <http://diabetes.org/diabetes-research/summaries/dincer-statin-medications.jsp>.

"Treating High Cholesterol in People with Diabetes." Diabetes.org. 2006. American Diabetes Association. 27 Sep 2007 <http://www.diabetes.org/type-1-diabetes/well-being/treating-cholesterol.jsp>.

"Triglycerides." American Heart Association. American Heart Association. 27 Sep 2007. <http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4778>.

“The Heart of Diabetes.” American Heart Association. American Heart Association. 27 Sep 2007. http://www.s2mw.com/heartofdiabetes/cholesterol.html

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