High Cholesterol and COVID-19: What’s the Connection?

High Cholesterol and COVID-19: What's the Connection?

So many health conditions appear to be linked or affected by COVID-19, and cholesterol is no exception.

This article will provide more details on this connection between cholesterol and COVID-19 and how cholesterol levels may affect the risks of serious illness and complications of COVID-19.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance in your body. It’s important for things like making cell membranes and producing certain hormones and vitamins.

Experts have observed changes in cholesterol levels in people with COVID-19. Specifically, LDL-C, HDL-C, and total cholesterol levels are reduced when a person has COVID-19.

According to 2022 Research Paper, several other viral, bacterial and parasitic infections can lead to similar findings. Examples of other viruses that can cause changes in cholesterol levels include:

Experts currently do not know how COVID-19 leads to lower cholesterol levels. In general, experts believe that inflammation increases during infection impact in different ways associated with the production, transport and metabolism of cholesterol in the body.

With COVID-19, the extent of the drop in cholesterol levels may be related to the severity of the disease. A Research Review 2022 found that after hospital admission, people with severe COVID-19 had lower levels of:

  • total cholesterol
  • LDL-C
  • HDL-C

Seconds researchers, HDL-C has anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic properties. Therefore, it is possible that a sharp drop in HDL-C during COVID-19 may increase the risk of problems due to high levels of inflammation and blood clots.

Although cholesterol has important functions in the body, too much of it can be harmful. When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, you usually have high cholesterol.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approx 38% of adults in the United States they have high cholesterol. As such, you may be wondering if having high cholesterol increases your risk of contracting COVID-19.

Currently, high cholesterol is not found in the CDC list of conditions that increase the risk of COVID-19. However, there are several conditions that often happen along with high cholesterol, including:

High cholesterol may increase your risk of getting COVID-19

A Study 2021 found that higher body mass index and cholesterol were linked to cases and deaths from COVID-19.

The researchers suggested that this finding could be one reason why areas of the world with high incidences of obesity and high cholesterol have seen more cases and deaths from COVID-19.

Another Study 2021 used data from the UK Biobank to analyze the effect of cholesterol on susceptibility to COVID-19. After their analysis, the researchers found that having higher total cholesterol was linked to greater susceptibility to COVID-19.

How does high cholesterol increase your risk?

Cholesterol is present in the cell membranes of the body. As such, it is possible that higher cholesterol increases susceptibility to COVID-19 by promoting viral entry into host cells.

A Study 2021 researched this idea. In a laboratory, the experts loaded the cell membranes with extra blood-derived cholesterol. The experts exposed the cell membranes to a test virus with the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The researchers saw that the infection was higher in cholesterol-laden cells.

They suggested that because the virus more effectively infected cells with higher cholesterol, this may add another reason why COVID-19 may be more severe in older adults, as they are more likely to have underlying medical conditions such as high cholesterol.

High HDL-C may protect against COVID-19

A Study 2022 also looked at the effect of cholesterol levels on the risk of developing COVID-19. The researchers found that having high levels of HDL-C is linked to a lower risk of contracting COVID-19.

The experts found the lowest level of risk in people who had high levels of HDL-C i low LDL-C levels.

Unlike the other studies discussed, other types of cholesterol, such as total cholesterol and LDL-C, were not independently associated with the risk of developing COVID-19.

Long-term COVID-19 is a collection of symptoms that can last for weeks, months, or even years after you have COVID-19. People with long-term COVID can experience a wide variety of symptoms. Examples include:

Having COVID-19 can change your cholesterol levels. But do some people continue to have altered cholesterol levels even after recovering from COVID-19?

A Study 2021 followed up with people who had been hospitalized for COVID-19 after 3 to 6 months. Compared with their levels at admission, both LDL-C and HDL-C levels improved significantly at the follow-up appointment.

Having high cholesterol can increase your long-term risk of getting COVID, as well as prolonged symptoms of other non-COVID illnesses. At least that’s according to a 2022 study.

The study included people with a wide spectrum of severity of COVID-19, from asymptomatic individuals to those with long-standing COVID-19. It also included people who tested negative for COVID-19 but had prolonged COVID-19-like symptoms.

The researchers analyzed different blood biomarkers. Levels of unhealthy lipids, including cholesterol, are linked to longer duration of symptoms for those who had tested positive for COVID-19 and those with other similar illnesses.

Vaccines against COVID-19 can be great tools to prevent serious illness and death from COVID-19. However, given the information about COVID-19 and cholesterol, you may be wondering if the COVID-19 vaccine can also affect cholesterol levels.

There is currently one report from 2021 of altered lipid levels after vaccination. In it, a person experienced high triglyceride levels after receiving their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

However, the problem is that this individual had an inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolemia, in which LDL-C levels become very high.

There is currently no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine affects cholesterol levels in the general population.

COVID-19 can cause cholesterol levels to drop. The extent of this decline is related to the severity of the disease. Most people’s cholesterol levels rise again after recovery.

Having high cholesterol can increase your risk of getting COVID-19 and of having COVID-19 for a long time. So consider taking steps to prevent illness, such as being up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations.

High cholesterol can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, which can have serious consequences such as heart attack and stroke. If you have high cholesterol, see your doctor to get it under control.

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