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What Really Causes High BP and Cholesterol?

In recent times I have heard things contradicting the traditional beliefs that sodium intake causes high blood pressure and that intake of saturated fat and cholesterol causes high cholesterol. Apparently, low sodium intake is worse for you than moderate intake and if you have high cholesterol it is because your body is producing too much itself, cholesterol is broken down when you eat it and doesn’t go directly into the bloodstream.

So aside from being overweight and having bad genetics, what really causes high BP and high cholesterol?

@mertdawg - I’m sure you know a thing or two about this

Uh… those are actually the two REAL culprits.




OK, so as far as weight, is it just excess bodyfat or does actual weight matter as well?

Overfat/obese people are at higher risk for HTN.

If an overfat/obese HTNive loses weight, his/her BP usually comes down proportionately, and may normalize.

Increased muscle mass is associated with a reduced risk of HTN. However, to my knowledge this relationship has not been verified to hold for extremely muscular individuals. (Such a study would be difficult to perform given the relatively low number of such individuals, as well as the large number of potential confounding variables.)


Of the few things I read, sugar intake (high amounts), can have an effect on high blood pressure. I too always thought salt was the culprit.

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There is the LP1 (a protein in cholesterol) that is not really affected by nutrition or activity. Every one in my family has it but me. I am also the only one who has no cholesterol or high bp issue.

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I’m assuming by HTN you mean hypertension, I have never seen that acronym before.

How would you define “extremely muscular”? As in at which point does muscularity become extreme?

Does increased muscle mass still reduce risk of HTN if bodyfat is high?


These terms are not well defined. I do not have a good definition to offer.


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OK, so then for cholesterol is there anything that can be done to keep that in check other than not getting too fat?

So cholesterol intake really does increase cholesterol levels? There are people preaching conflicting opinions and I really don’t know what to believe, doctors are still telling people to cut down on salt when studies are showing the opposite and with regards to cholesterol what I have heard is that cholesterol is digested when you eat it so it can’t directly increase your cholesterol levels.

I just did a quick search and found this article on yahoo: “Cholesterol no longer a concern: US experts” from 2015

" Medical experts used to believe that eating too much cholesterol could raise the risk of heart attack and stroke by contributing to plaque buildup in the arteries.

But the 2015 version of the guidelines will no longer place an upper limit on cholesterol “because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol,” the US Department of Agriculture said in a statement.

The draft report, published online at health.gov/dietaryguidelines, said “cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

However, this article says the opposite of what I have been hearing lately:

" While cholesterol may be getting a free pass, the saturated fat that usually accompanies it is not.

In fact, experts recommend that Americans eat less than before.

Calories from saturated fat should make up about eight percent of a person’s daily calorie intake, compared to the 2010 guidelines that advised 10 percent."

Get your genetics tested. If you have the gene variations that are sensitive to sodium and saturated fat, then you’ll know to limit them. $200 is worth avoiding a future heart attack or surgery.

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If anything I should just get a blood test and BP check, last time I had my BP checked was a year ago and last time I has blood work done was about 6 years. Everything was fine, I just want it to stay that way and I’m curious about this stuff.

I try to stay away from doctors as much as possible, last time I got sick was after going to the doctor and I was healthy when I got there.

There is a relationship, yes. But it is not a simple one.

There are always ‘studies that show the opposite.’ And unfortunately, because of their novelty such studies tend to garner more attention than they warrant. Better to go with the consensus opinion.


Always maintain a healthy skepticism when reading medical articles in the popular press. They often misinterpret or oversimplify medical research findings.

From the abstract I posted:
“It must be emphasized that dietary cholesterol is only one of several dietary factors influencing serum cholesterol levels. Others include saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, soluble fiber, and total caloric intake. To achieve substantial serum cholesterol lowering, favorable changes in all of these factors must be combined.”

Like I said above: There is a relationship between dietary and serum cholesterol, but it is not simple.

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The biggest problem in assessing the effects of cholesterol is that cholesterol appears to be beneficial in the subgroup of people who have not had arterial scarring, calcium buildup, a history of smoking or who engage in very high levels of aerobic exercise like running more than 40 K per week. Cholesterol can’t directly cause atherosclerosis because it can not carry oxidative species to the arterial linings, but if the oxidative damage occurs then excess cholesterol can stick to the lesions and calcium deposits and “backfire”, though the main reason that the body sends cholesterol to the blood vessel linings is to reinforce and heal damaged arterial linings. When the damage gets chronic, cholesterol produced by the body goes up, so high cholesterol is an early mechanism to protect atherosclerosis but eventually becomes similar to putting too many band aids on a wound.

I have a problem with meta studies because in my opinion, most of the original cholesterol studies were based on an assumption that dietary cholesterol raised blood cholesterol and that blood cholesterol caused atherosclerosis, so we have a huge body of original biased studies, many of which were funded by corn, soy and canola producers to show that corn, soy and canola lowered blood cholesterol (which they DO) and that blood cholesterol raised mortality (which it doesn’t on balance). The fact that corn, soy and canola oils “artificially” reduce blood cholesterol levels shows up in the data as saturated fat RAISING cholesterol levels because people who eat more corn, soy and canola have low, and sometimes harmfully low cholesterol levels. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29551407 though if you already have massive endothelial lesions, it might help because you can prevent the cholesterol backfire mechanism.

I don’t have time to delve deeper now, but I will also mention that regarding earlier studies and meta studies, another confounding factor was that saturated fat diets used to mean high trans fat diets, but natural saturated fatty acids are not trans (with a few oddball exceptions).

So lastly for now, a couple of oddball relationships that confound the data. Many studies have shown that high circulating ala levels correlate to health. These studies often suggest that it is the cholesterol lowering effect or a heart protective mechanism, however it is well established that when someone has chronic infections, their body gets depleted of ala (omega-6). So we have a situation where sick people’s bodies naturally make cholesterol and get depleted of omega-6 in the process of fighting illnesses. It makes it very necessary to separate people into healthy and unhealthy subgroups. If you are already healthy, don’t have arterial scarring or risk factors and are not fighting chronic infections, high blood cholesterol correlates to higher lifespan up to well over 200, as does a lower intake of omega 6. If you are sick and diseased, things change.

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“in a 10-year study of even older adults (median age, 89y; 724 subjects), all-cause mortality risk was significantly increased in subjects with total cholesterol values less than 193 mg/dL (dark black line below), compared with values greater than 251 mg/dL (dashed line; Weverling-Rijnsburger et al. 1997). In addition, subjects with cholesterol values greater than 251 mg/dL lived ~2 years longer than those with values less than 191 mg/dL.”

Again, remember that these studies do not weed out patholigical hypercholesterolemia from non-pathological.

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Total cholesterol is a very, very blunt instrument in this context.

  1. The vast majority of emerging data supports the contention that all cause mortality is inversely related to total, hdl AND even LDL blood cholesterol levels. http://vernerwheelock.com/179-cholesterol-and-all-cause-mortality/

  2. Mortality from heart disease is slightly related to LDL (bad cholesterol) and by extension, total cholesterol, but not when the subset of the population that doesn’t smoke, or have prior test confirming atherosclerosis is excluded.

  3. Total cholesterol is slightly correlated to cholesterol intake, but this is only true when including people with blood cholesterol levels that are SO LOW that they correlate to significantly GREATER health risks. When people with harmfully low cholesterol levels are excluded, there is no overall correlation between cholesterol intake and blood cholesterol. In other words, dietary cholesterol is only related to blood cholesterol because it is somewhat strongly related to blood cholesterol in the subset of the population for whom it would significantly reduce mortality for it to be higher.


So in other words, high cholesterol is nothing to worry about unless you have a bunch of other health issues.

With what sort of diseases is high cholesterol associated with reduced lifespan?