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.
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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” .
Understanding the relationship between cholesterol and diabetes can help you make informed decisions about your health and reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
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 . 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 .
However, having high levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and kidney issues . This is because cholesterol can build up in the walls of your arteries, which can narrow or block blood flow.
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” .
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 . The hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas, helps your cells absorb and use glucose .
Regardless of what type of diabetes you have, type 1 or type 2, excess sugar in the blood can lead to serious health issues .
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.
Here are the different stages and types of 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 ) put a person at risk of type 2 diabetes .
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” .
The Mayo Clinic  lists the following as symptoms of type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes:
What are the effects of high cholesterol?