Cholesterol myths are important to debunk because your health depends on it!
“You have high cholesterol – you must stop eating eggs!”
Have you ever heard this advice? Did it ever make you wonder why your cholesterol never went down even though you stopped eating eggs? It’s because cholesterol is a bit more complicated than simply ‘if you eat eggs, your cholesterol will rise’.
High cholesterol is a common problem, especially in people over 40. There are many physiological reasons for this rise in cholesterol, from hormonal imbalances to nutrient deficiency to enzyme malfunction. If you’re worried about this, discover the 5 most popular cholesterol myths and how you can naturally improve your overall cholesterol levels!
Cholesterol Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is cholesterol
First, let’s define ‘cholesterol’. Cholesterol is a molecule that binds to other molecules and moves through your blood. Cholesterol binds to fats and proteins called ‘lipoproteins’, and it’s these lipoproteins that can cause problems – not cholesterol.
Lipoproteins are grouped into two categories:
- HDL, or high density lipoproteins (aka ‘good’ cholesterol), ‘clean up’ problematic substances, like arterial plaque, and transport cholesterol back to the liver
- LDL, or low density lipoproteins (aka ‘bad’ cholesterol), transport cholesterol from the liver and accumulate in the arteries; they are also more easily oxidized in the blood
So, it’s not so much the quantity of cholesterol you have, but the type of lipoprotein that it’s combined with in your blood that’s important. Blood tests break down HDL and LDL cholesterol into subcategories, too.
This is probably the most misunderstood of all cholesterol myths!
Cholesterol Myth #2: Cholesterol is bad
Your body needs cholesterol for critical processes. Cholesterol helps to produce vitamin D when you’re out in the sun, manufacture hormones, and make bile to help you absorb dietary fats. And, cholesterol is a vital part of your cell membranes.
The total amount of cholesterol in your blood isn’t nearly as important as how much cholesterol you have. And, your LDL:HDL ratio is not the only thing to consider for heart health.
Cholesterol Myth #3: Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol
This is a big misconception and one area that Western medicine has missed the boat. Your liver makes cholesterol to ensure you have enough for the body’s important processes. If you eat more cholesterol than normal, your liver will not make as much.
Think about this – prescription drugs that aim to reduce your cholesterol levels block an enzyme, HMG Co-A reductase, from working. This means that not only will your liver produce less bad LDL cholesterol but it won’t produce good HDL cholesterol either (remember its protective function).
Cholesterol Myth #4: Your cholesterol should be as low as possible
Low cholesterol can be bad for your health too. Without enough cholesterol, your body has to ‘steal’ cholesterol from other hormones and organs in order to manage body processes. Cancer, suicide and other non-heart-related diseases are common in people with very low levels of cholesterol. In women, infertility and menstrual issues may occur too.
Balance is the key to cholesterol health!
Cholesterol Myth #5: Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol balance
First, always talk to your doctor before you start or stop any medications.
However, prescription drugs designed to control cholesterol may lower LDL levels but they don’t raise good HDL levels. HDL removes arterial plaque and cholesterol from the blood so you need that stuff!
What does help raise your good cholesterol? You guessed it – diet and exercise!
Diet and Lifestyle Practices to Manage Your Cholesterol
Your first step towards cholesterol health is to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables – 8-10 servings every day! Since a portion is about half of a cup or the size of your fist, you should easily be able to include lots of fruits and veggies into your diet.
High-quality healthy fats (like olive oil or refrigerated flaxseed oil) are beneficial; eat more fatty fish, avocados and raw pumpkin seeds. Ditch those over-processed, hydrogenated, unhealthy fats like margarine for good!
Daily activity, including 1-2 cardiovascular workouts per week, is another great way to help manage your cholesterol. So, get outside, move more and stay active! Manage stress, lose weight and stop smoking to help improve your healthy cholesterol levels.
It’s scary to be told you have high cholesterol and that you need medication. But, luckily we are learning more every day about how a healthy, balanced diet can improve good cholesterol levels while reducing bad cholesterol. Your best plan of attack to avoid problems associated with high cholesterol is to eat clean and exercise often!