Multiple varieties of cheese with cholesterol displayed on a table

Cholesterol and diabetes: what's the connection?

Written on March 29, 2023 by Gillian (Gigi) Singer, MPH. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

Cholesterol and diabetes are two interrelated health conditions that can significantly impact your overall health. Both conditions are linked to cardiovascular disease, which is “the leading cause of death in the United States” and “accounted for 928,741 deaths in the year 2020” [1].

Understanding the relationship between cholesterol and diabetes can help you make informed decisions about your health and reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is found in your blood. Your liver produces cholesterol, and it's also present in certain foods like eggs, shellfish, meat, and dairy products [2]. Cholesterol is essential for various bodily functions, such as building and repairing tissues and cells, producing hormones, creating bile in the liver, and aiding in the production of vitamin D [3].

However, having high levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and kidney issues [3]. This is because cholesterol can build up in the walls of your arteries, which can narrow or block blood flow.

High cholesterol

The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is by doing a cholesterol blood test. The Mayo Clinic and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommend that “a person's first cholesterol screening should occur between the ages of 9 and 11, and then be repeated every five years after that,” with more frequent screenings for people above the age of 45 or “if you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, or other risk factors, such as diabetes or high blood pressure” [4].

Details of diabetes

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that affects how your body uses glucose, a type of sugar. When you eat, your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is the main source of energy for the brain and a primary source of energy for the cells in your body [5]. The hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas, helps your cells absorb and use glucose [5].

Regardless of what type of diabetes you have, type 1 or type 2, excess sugar in the blood can lead to serious health issues [5].

In people with diabetes, either the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin, or the body's cells become resistant to insulin. As a result, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, leading to high blood sugar levels. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage your blood vessels, nerves, and organs.

Stages and types of diabetes

Here are the different stages and types of diabetes:

  • Chronic diabetes
  • Type 1: “Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition. In this condition, the pancreas makes little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone the body uses to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. Different factors, such as genetics and some viruses, may cause type 1 diabetes. Although type 1 diabetes usually appears during childhood or adolescence, it can develop in adults” [6].
  • Type 2: “Type 2 diabetes is a condition that happens because of a problem in the way the body regulates and uses sugar as a fuel. That sugar is called glucose. This long-term condition results in too much sugar circulating in the blood. Eventually, high blood sugar levels can lead to disorders of the circulatory, nervous, and immune systems” [7].
  • Potentially reversible diabetes
  • Prediabetes: “Prediabetes happens when blood sugar levels are higher than normal. But the blood sugar levels aren't high enough to be called diabetes. And prediabetes can lead to diabetes unless steps are taken to prevent it” [5].
  • Gestational diabetes: “Gestational diabetes happens during pregnancy. But it may go away after the baby is born” [5].

Relationship between cholesterol and diabetes

Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or the "good" cholesterol, and high levels of triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood, like cholesterol [8]) put a person at risk of type 2 diabetes [7].

When to seek medical care

High cholesterol has no symptoms, so you have to have bloodwork done to test cholesterol and lipid levels.

People with prediabetes, gestational diabetes, or type 2 diabetes might not present any symptoms, whereas “type 1 diabetes, symptoms tend to come on quickly and be more severe” [5].

The Mayo Clinic [5] lists the following as symptoms of type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination (more than usual)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Presence of ketones in the urine
  • Tiredness/fatigue
  • Irritability and/or mood changes.
  • Blurry vision
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Getting a lot of gum, skin, and/or vaginal infections

Is high cholesterol genetic?

What are the effects of high cholesterol?

What causes high cholesterol?


  1. Heart disease and stroke statistics - 2023 update. AHA. URL. Accessed March 21, 2023.
  2. High cholesterol food. HEART UK - The Cholesterol Charity. URL. Accessed March 21, 2023.
  3. What is the function of cholesterol in the body? Medical News Today. URL. Accessed March 21, 2023.
  4. High cholesterol. Mayo Clinic. URL. Published January 11, 2023. Accessed March 21, 2023.
  5. Diabetes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Published January 20, 2023. Accessed March 21, 2023.
  6. Type 1 diabetes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Published July 7, 2022. Accessed March 21, 2023.
  7. Type 2 diabetes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Published March 14, 2023. Accessed March 21, 2023.
  8. Can triglycerides affect my heart health? Mayo Clinic. URL. Published September 3, 2022. Accessed March 21, 2023.
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