Everyone should understand how cholesterol factors into a healthy lifestyle, no matter what your age, body type or family history. Have you been tricked into believing a cholesterol myth?
1. Cholesterol is bad. Your body needs cholesterol to keep cell membranes stable and aids in the production of certain hormones. Cholesterol only becomes a problem when too much of it circulates in the blood and builds up inside arteries. If too much cholesterol builds up, an artery can become blocked, and a heart attack or stroke can occur.
2. Everyone should shoot for the ‘right’ number. There’s no ideal number for everyone. It depends entirely on your risk factors. Unless you have a risk factor — such as smoking, diabetes, or high blood pressure — you should try to get your levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, under 160 mg/dL.
3. High total cholesterol is caused by a poor diet. While the consumption of saturated fats and trans fats does drive LDL cholesterol up, over 80% of cholesterol is produced in the liver. Along with a healthy diet, the most effective way to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol is to control the liver’s internal cholesterol production.
4. Foods labeled “cholesterol free” are better for your heart. Don’t let the label fool you. The cholesterol portion of the nutritional label refers to dietary cholesterol, which is only one thing that can cause your cholesterol to go sky-high. Saturated fat (found in animal foods and dairy products) and trans fats (found in packaged foods) have major impact on LDL cholesterol.
5. High cholesterol is only a problem as you age. Most people think high cholesterol is a problem for the middle-aged. But guess what? Research has shown that atherosclerosis — the narrowing of the arteries that leads to heart attacks — can start as early as age eight!
6. If your cholesterol is normal, you won’t get heart disease. Cholesterol levels are just one of several risk factors for heart disease. Other risks include high triglycerides, insulin resistance and high blood pressure. Smoking and living a sedentary lifestyle are also big risk factors for heart disease.
7. You always need medicine to bring cholesterol down. Some people do need to take prescriptions medications, such as statins, to help lower cholesterol. However, a nutritional regimen, healthier diet, weight loss and exercise can go a long way to whip cholesterol levels into shape, even with a family history.
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