All Cholesterol Is Bad
The idea that all cholesterol is dangerous is decidedly false. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), your body needs cholesterol to produce cell membranes and some types of hormones, and to maintain certain bodily functions. In fact, your body produces approximately 75 percent of the cholesterol in your bloodstream. There are two types of cholesterol: LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). If LDL numbers are too high, it can build up as plaque in your arteries, causing blockages that can lead to heart attack or stroke. HDL, however, is believed to protect your cardiovascular system from damage by expelling excess cholesterol from your bloodstream and slowing the buildup of LDL. The key to good health is maintaining a healthy cholesterol balance.
Total Cholesterol Matters Most
Many people believe that if their total cholesterol number is within normal range, then all is well. Unfortunately this isn’t true. In an interview with Heart Healthy Online, Scott W. Shurmur, M.D., explains that even if your total cholesterol number is normal, you may still be at risk for heart disease. Doctors prefer to break down your total cholesterol into HDL, LDL and triglycerides. A better indicator of healthy cholesterol levels and a sound cardiovascular system is a fifth number, your non-HDL cholesterol, which is obtained by subtracting your HDL number from your total number. Says Dr. Shurmur, “We like to see non-HDL cholesterol 30 points higher than your LDL measurement. It’s a better predictor of heart-attack risk than your total cholesterol number alone.”
Eggs Are Bad
This myth, which spread like wildfire in the 1980s, warned against the dangers of eggs, based on the theory that because eggs have a high cholesterol content, eating them could raise cholesterol levels to unhealthy levels. Not true, according to Dr. Shurmur. Although one egg contains approximately 200 mg of cholesterol—which is more than two-thirds of the AHA’s recommended daily amount—they’re low in saturated fat, which is more culpable in raising bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. Further, recent studies show that dietary cholesterol is not as unhealthy as once thought. Only a portion of it is absorbed by your bloodstream, and if your dietary cholesterol consumption increases, your body compensates by manufacturing less.
According to MSN Health & Fitness, nutrition labels that declare food “cholesterol-free” can be deceptive. Dietary cholesterol, in fact, is considered the least important culprit when it comes to raising your cholesterol levels. More dangerous are foods that are high in saturated fat, generally found in animal and dairy products, and trans fats, typically found in hydrogenated oils, fried foods, imitation cheese, and packaged foods like cookies, doughnuts, chips and crackers. The AHA warns that saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels and trans fats not only raise your LDL levels but lower your HDL levels. The lesson: Before you purchase any food product, read the nutrition label carefully.
Supplements and Cholesterol
Reports that herbal supplements like garlic, guggul or ginger can improve cholesterol levels are, according to Heart Healthy Online, exaggerated at best, patently false at worst. Garlic and ginger may have a very mild effect on cholesterol levels, but they are in no way a substitute for traditional drug therapy. As far as the Indian herb guggul, or guggulipid, is concerned, clinical trials have shown that it may actually raise levels of LDL cholesterol and cause allergic reactions in some people. Leslie Cho, M.D., speaking on Heart Healthy Online, states that although fish oil and omega-3 supplements have been proven to protect against heart attack, it is a myth that they lower cholesterol.
Cholesterol Is an Adult Problem
Think your kids aren’t at risk for high cholesterol? Think again. According to MSN Health & Fitness, studies have shown that children as young as eight can begin to develop atherosclerosis, the artery-narrowing plaque buildup that leads to heart attacks and stroke. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children with a family history of cardiovascular disease or who are overweight or have hypertension should have their cholesterol levels tested as early as age 2. The guidelines go on to recommend that children who have high cholesterol should exercise, take fiber supplements and consume a diet restricted in cholesterol and saturated fat.