The myths around cholesterol are confusing making it difficult to sift the fact from the fiction. Let’s try to debunk some of the common ones.
Cholesterol, a topic talked about in hushed tones while checking back over your shoulders for anyone listening.
Some are obsessed with it, some go all ostrich and bury their head in the sand hoping it’s all over with by the time they come up for air.
Firstly, what is Cholesterol?
Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is cholesterol
While cholesterol is an actual molecule which is carried around in the bloodstream. What it is bound to while it’s floating through your blood is super important in fact depending on what it’s combined with can have opposite effects on your arteries and heart.
So. It 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”.
There are two main categories:
- HDL: High-Density Lipoprotein AKA “good” cholesterol. This scavenger extraordinaire travels the superhighways of your bloodstream removing bad cholesterol from where it doesn’t belong cleaning up some of those infamous “arterial plaques” then transporting cholesterol back to the liver.
- LDL: Low-Density Lipoprotein AKA “bad” cholesterol. Despite the bad rap that LDL gest it is responsible for transporting cholesterol to every cell in our body from the liver. It is when our LDL levels are high that is can cause problems, it can accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized causing inflammation.
Of course, it is even more complicated than this. Each of these categories can be further broken down into subcategories which can all be measured in a blood test.
So “cholesterol” isn’t simply cholesterol because it has very different effects on your body depending on the molecules it is bound to in your blood and what it is doing there.
Myth #2: Cholesterol is bad
Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce critical compounds like vitamin D, sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile to help you absorb dietary fats. It is in fact incorporated into the membranes of every cell.
Your total cholesterol level is not as important as your how much of each you have.
Your overall 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
Cholesterol medications block an enzyme in your liver HMG Co-A reductase because that’s where it’s made!
What you eat can still affect how much cholesterol your liver produces. After a cholesterol-rich meal, your liver can have a wee rest as it doesn’t need to work as hard.
Myth #4: Your cholesterol should be as low as possible
As with almost everything in life, there’s a balance that needs to be maintained. There are very few extremes that are going to serve you well.
There is possible evidence that people with low levels of cholesterol have increased risk of anti-social violent behaviour which could be as a result of depression.
Myth #5: Drugs are the only way to improve the balance of your cholesterol
Please do not start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.
While drugs can certainly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol they don’t seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol particularly well.
But there is a solution and it’s easy, and its good, and it is my life and it should be yours.
Nutrition and exercise!
One of the most impactful ways to lower your cholesterol with diet is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. I mean lots, say up to 10 servings a day. Every day. And of course, cut out the saturated fat. And eat plenty of fibre which works like a scouring pad through your digestive system.
Use the dressing recipes here to help you add those extra vegetables into your diet and make them fun and delicious.
Also, move, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better quality fats. That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil. Ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats. Watch a video on how they are made. I swear you will never touch them again.
The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we’re consistently learning more. Don’t be afraid, dive in and discover your cholesterol levels. If they are not good there is a lot you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve them.
For more on cholesterol check out these two articles. Mark Hyman has a wealth of knowledge on the subject if you visit his site.