Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all the cells of the body. It is used by the body to build cells and make vitamins and other hormones. The liver makes all the cholesterol you need with more coming from animal products including meat, poultry, and dairy products. There are many myths surrounding cholesterol and cholesterol levels, this is an attempt to the record straight concerning the most common misconceptions.
Myth 1: All cholesterol is bad for you
Cholesterol has an unfortunate reputation as being terrible for overall health. The fact is the body needs cholesterol in order to perform critical jobs including making hormones and building cells. It is a vital component of cell membranes. There are two types of cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) “good”. High cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol) are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease but without any cholesterol, we would not survive.
Myth 2: I am at a healthy weight so I can’t have high cholesterol
Cholesterol balance is a function of what you eat as well as genetics. A person can be born with a genetic tendency not to process cholesterol efficiently. Even if you have a healthy weight, your cholesterol levels can be abnormal. Overweight people are more likely to have high levels but thin people can be affected as well. Other factors that affect your levels include diet, exercise habits, lifestyle choices including whether you smoke or drink alcohol.
Myth 3: You don’t need your cholesterol checked until middle age
Experts recommend all adults 20 years and older have their cholesterol checked every four to six years as long as the risk remains low. The best practice is to get an annual check-up. A similar myth is that only the elderly get high cholesterol levels. While it is true that the levels rise with age, even children as young as 8 have been diagnosed with high levels. One American study found that 12% and 7% of American adults and children respectively had high levels of cholesterol.
Myth 4: There is an ideal cholesterol number
It’s easy to assume that there is an ideal number, but that’s not the case. Every body is different, for this reason, you should work with your doctor to find out what your ideal cholesterol number is. The ideal cholesterol levels are a factor of a range of physical differences including age, gender, weight, and more.
Myth 5: You’ll know if you have high cholesterol
False. Most people with high cholesterol levels have no symptoms. The only way to know your levels is through testing. Most people need to have their cholesterol checked every five years but it’s best practice to do it annually, especially for people with a family history of high cholesterol. Early intervention is always best.
Myth 6: Women don’t have to worry about high cholesterol
There is a common misconception that only men are affected by high cholesterol levels. Even women are prone to high levels with fat deposition being experienced more by women. Everyone should try and stay fit and healthy because the risk is present for everyone.
Myth 7: It’s best to stick to egg whites only
Eggs have a negative reputation as being the culprit in raising cholesterol levels. Egg whites offer some protein, but egg yolk contains almost all of an egg’s nutrition including most of its iron, biotin, folate, and vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
One three-month study about the impact on cholesterol of eating whole eggs or yolk-free eggs found that those who ate three whole eggs daily had a larger increase their HDL “good” cholesterol levels and a greater decrease in LDL “bad” levels.
Myth 8: With medication, no lifestyle changes are needed
Medication does help control cholesterol levels, however, diet and lifestyle changes are the best way to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Myth 9: I can’t do anything to change my cholesterol levels
There are things you can do to improve your cholesterol levels including:
- Getting checked at least every five years
- Having a healthy diet
- Engaging in physical activity and exercise
- Avoiding smoking and using tobacco products
- Knowing your family history
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