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6 Things We All Get Wrong About Cholesterol

 Being diagnosed with high cholesterol can be scary - not only because of the dangerous ability of this fatty substance to clog your arteries but also because anyone can get it at any time without ever suspecting. Despite popular belief, high cholesterol and atherosclerosis (the stiffening and narrowing of blood vessels caused by cholesterol plaques) are not diseases that only affect overweight or older people. These are extremely common conditions that require proper screening and self-care - so pay attention to these 6 misconceptions, and don’t let them mislead you and ruin your health.

Myth 1. I would feel it if I had high cholesterol

Cholesterol Myths man sweating
This is one of the biggest myths about high cholesterol. Most people who have high cholesterol notice no signs of symptoms until the condition is already starting to cause complications like a heart attack or stroke. In relatively rare cases, yellow fatty growths called xanthomas may appear on the skin; their presence, however, is usually a sign of extremely high cholesterol levels.
As atherosclerosis progresses and cholesterol deposits build up in the blood vessels, the blood supply to the tissues organs starts decreasing and a person may experience symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness, and sweating. Severe atherosclerosis causes complications like chest pain, pain in the legs while walking, kidney damage, heart attack, and stroke.
Ideally, you want to catch high cholesterol early and avoid these life-threatening complications altogether. The only sure way to know if you have high cholesterol is through a blood test. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting your cholesterol levels tested at least every 5 years. This can be done with a standard blood test.

Myth 2. All cholesterol harms your health

Cholesterol Myths HDL LDL cholesterol
In itself, cholesterol is not harmful. In fact, it’s necessary for the human body to produce bile acid, vitamin D, healthy new cells, and hormones. In order to transport cholesterol through the blood vessels, the body uses special proteins called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) are the two main ones, and they impact our health differently.
  • LDL (also known as “bad” cholesterol) carries cholesterol from the liver to the cells. LDL is often called “bad” because high levels of it build up in the blood vessels and raise the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • HDL (also known as “good” cholesterol) takes the cholesterol back to the liver. The liver helps remove cholesterol from the body, so it reduces one’s risk of cardiovascular issues.
When your doctor tells you that you must lower your cholesterol level, they usually mean LDL levels. Overall, cholesterol isn’t harmful at all, but our sedentary lifestyle and overeating made it so that it is. As Dr. Robert Greenfield explained in an article for Medical News Today, “Our bodies weren’t designed to live in an environment where food was in excess, and so when cholesterol is in excess, it will be deposited in our body. And that deposit center can often be our blood vessels, and that’s when it’s bad for us.”

Myth 3. Young and fit people shouldn’t worry about cholesterol

Cholesterol Myths weight loss
There is a persistent false belief that only older or overweight people have high cholesterol. While it is true that both obesity and age are risk factors, anyone can have high cholesterol, including fit adults and even children. For this reason, The American Heart Association recommends that everyone check their cholesterol levels once in 5 years, even if you’re young and there’s no history of heart disease in your family.
Smokers, diabetics, older people, people with thyroid issues, heart disease sufferers, and those with a family history of high cholesterol, stroke, or heart attack should get tested even more frequently. You could be genetically predisposed to cholesterol imbalance without ever knowing it, so it’s better to stay on the safe side and get tested regularly. Your lifestyle habits, such as smoking, diet, drinking alcohol, and how much you exercise and sleep all impact your cholesterol levels too, so basically anyone could develop high cholesterol.

Myth 4. Once high cholesterol develops, there’s nothing you can do about it

Cholesterol Myths plaque in blood vessel
Thankfully, cholesterol levels are easier to manage today than ever before. Since we know so much about the causes of high cholesterol, doctors are able to give you detailed guidance that will get your cholesterol levels back to normal. Some patients will have to combine medications with lifestyle changes to lower their cholesterol, but for others, losing weight, eating healthy, avoiding harmful habits like smoking and drinking, and doing a little bit of light exercise every day will be enough to keep their cholesterol levels in check.
You may be prescribed medications like statins and PCSK-9 inhibitors that will improve your cholesterol levels, but also remember to support your wellbeing with those healthy lifestyle habits. Learn more about such habits and dietary changes here - 11 Efficient Ways to Reduce Cholesterol.

Myth 5. The healthy range of cholesterol is the same for everyone

Cholesterol Myths blood pressure
Doctors may recommend two different treatments for people with the same cholesterol levels, but why? This is because factors like age, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, weight, and underlying health conditions all influence your cholesterol “target.” For a healthy person, measures below 200 mg/dl of total cholesterol and below 100 mg/dl of LDL cholesterol are considered normal.
However, someone suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes, for example, should have LDL levels no higher than 70 mg/dl - ideally even lower. All that is to say - only your doctor will be able to assess your cholesterol levels in a comprehensive manner and tell you whether or not you need to adjust them.

Myth 6. If you eat foods high in cholesterol, you will suffer from high cholesterol levels

Cholesterol Myths fast food
Cholesterol is naturally found in animal-derived foods, such as meat, dairy, and eggs. For years, doctors were telling us to stop eating eggs and other foods rich in cholesterol, but more recent research proves that your intake of cholesterol-rich foods doesn’t necessarily correlate with high blood cholesterol. In moderation, cholesterol-rich foods are actually fine to eat.
In fact, the very ingredient we demonized - eggs - has a high content of the “good” HDL cholesterol, which is why many nutrition experts are now advising everyone to eat 1-2 eggs a day. Recent research points to a different culprit that’s also present in many animal foods - saturated fat - and adds that adding dietary fiber and minimizing the amount of processed food and fatty meat go a long way in reducing one’s cholesterol levels. Learn more on the topic here - Bad Eating Habits For Cholesterol.
Lastly, there’s some compelling evidence that people who exercise regularly are not as likely to have high blood cholesterol after eating foods high in cholesterol as those with a sedentary lifestyle - so exercise in combination with your diet may be another important factor to consider.
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