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5 Myths About Cholesterol

You knew there was a bit of an over-emphasis (borderline obsession) about cholesterol, right? If you are post menopausal, your doctor may become more worried about your cholesterol levels since you are now at an increased risk for heart disease. But should you be concerned?

Cholesterol myths title min

What is Cholesterol

Cholesterol is an oil based substance produced by the liver. Since it is oil based it doesn’t mix well with water based blood so it needs a carrier which brings us to the first myth.

Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is cholesterol

While cholesterol is an actual molecule what it is bound to while it's floating through your blood is what's more important than just how much of it there is overall. In fact depending on what it's combined with can have opposite effects on your arteries and heart.

So cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood. These compounds contain cholesterol as well as fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.

They're grouped into two main categories:
HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.
LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) that transports fat and cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence their “badness”).

And yes, it's even more complicated than this. Each of these categories is further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured in a blood test.

So “cholesterol” isn't simply cholesterol because it has very different effects on your body depending on which other molecules it's bound to in your blood and what it is actually doing there.

Myth #2: Cholesterol is bad

Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce critical things like vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, your sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile to help you absorb dietary fats. Not to mention that it's incorporated into the membranes of your cells.

Talk about an important molecule!

While there seems to be a rise in heart attacks with higher total cholesterol, this is not always the case. It seems that the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol is more important.

While way too much LDL cholesterol as compared with HDL (the LDL:HDL ratio) may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease it is absolutely not the only thing to consider for heart health.

Myth #3: Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol

Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver. It's actually not from the cholesterol you eat.

Cholesterol is produced in response to what you eat, but it is in response to the fats you eat and not cholesterol. If you eat a lot of animal fats your LDL cholesterol is likely to be higher, but actual cholesterol content of food doesn’t affect most people. Your body will actually use the excess cholesterol in foods and the liver will not produce as much.

Myth #4: Your cholesterol should be as low as possible

As with almost everything in health and wellness there's a balance that needs to be maintained. There are very few extremes that are going to serve you well.

People with too-low levels of cholesterol have increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers, as well as suicide.

It also seems that the ratio of triglycerides to LDL is more important than the cholesterol ratios when it comes to heart disease.

Myth #5: Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol balance

Don't start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.

If you haven’t started taking cholesterol lowering medication, but your doctor has warned you, there are plenty of lifestyle modifications you can do to improve your cholesterol numbers. Even if you are taking medication these changes will have a huge impact.

What you eat has a huge effect on your LDL cholesterol. Here are some tips:

  • Eat 10 servings of fruit and vegetables every day.
  • Replace processed grains with whole grains or legumes
  • Eat nuts and seeds
  • Limit trans fats
  • Eat fatty fish or take an omega-3 supplement

To increase your HDL cholesterol levels (remember this is the good cholesterol) exercise seems to be the most effective. Some of the diet modifications above will also help.

Summary:

The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we're learning more every day. You may not need to be as afraid of it as you are. And there is a lot you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve your cholesterol level. Download my free guide to weight loss during menopause for more tips.

References:

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-cholesterol

http://summertomato.com/how-to-raise-your-hdl-cholesterol

https://authoritynutrition.com/top-9-biggest-lies-about-dietary-fat-and-cholesterol/

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