"When researchers studied several groups of young adults and looked at the extent to which high cholesterol in early adulthood is linked to later development of heart disease, they found that high levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol were 5.5 times as likely to have a buildup of calcium in their coronary arteries (an early indicator of heart disease) than those who had optimal levels.

Most of the time, high cholesterol in young adults occurs for the same reasons it does in older people: obesity, lack of physical exercise and a diet that includes too much sugar and too many junk foods and fast foods.

On the positive side, lifestyle and dietary changes can often help bring cholesterol levels under control. I suggest starting by eliminating processed foods, sugary drinks and quick digesting carbohydrates. That means avoiding manufactured food that contains trans fatty acids (TFAs), which increase total cholesterol, raise LDL and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol. 

The real cause of our high rates of cardiovascular disease could be sugar, rather than saturated fat. We whoudl not only be eating less foods that can increase cholesterol levels, we just also be increasing vegetables and olive oil to our daily diet. 

Losing weight may also help you lower your cholesterol – even modest weight loss can do the trick. Regular exercise is important; it can increase HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. If you smoke, quit. And since emotional stress may prompt the body to release fat into the bloodstream (raising cholesterol), we should also be addressin stress issues.

Victoria Howe, MD. Andrew Weil, MD.

Mark Pletcher et al, "Associations of retrospective and concurrent lipid levels with subclinical atherosclerosis prediction after 20 years of follow-up: the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study," Annals of Epidemiology, doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2013.06.003.