You probably had a feeling that there was a bit of an over-emphasis (border-lining an obsession) about cholesterol, right? I sure did.
But before we jump into dispelling some of those myths let's make sure we have the same understanding of what exactly cholesterol is.
Myth #1: All “Cholesterol” is The Same
While cholesterol is a molecule, what it is bound to while floating through the blood is more important than how much of it there actually is within your system. In fact – in certain instances, what it's combined with can have surprisingly positive effects on your arteries and heart.
Think of cholesterol as just one component of a compound that floats around your blood. These compounds contain cholesterol as well as fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.
They're grouped into two main categories:
HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.
LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) that transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence their “badness”).
However, this is a simplified explanation. Truthfully, it’s a little more complicated than this. These two categories are further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured in a blood test.
So the term “cholesterol” doesn’t accurately describe all that cholesterol is because it can have very different effects on your body depending on which molecules are bound to it.
Myth #2: Cholesterol is Bad
Don’t be miss led. Cholesterol is an important component for producing a cascade of critical functions like converting sun exposure into vitamin D, regulating sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), and producing bile to help you absorb dietary fats. Plus, it extends health into the pliability and receptive membranes of your cells.
Talk about an important molecule!
While the overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) should be monitored, it isn't nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood.
Having too much LDL cholesterol in comparison to HDL (the LDL:HDL ratio) has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease. However, it is absolutely not the only thing to consider for heart health.
Myth #3: Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol
Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver. Therefore, it’s not solely sourced from the cholesterol you eat. This is what makes cholesterol medications effective. They block certain enzymes in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact) in an effort to limit cholesterol production at its source – the liver.
Still, what you eat does affect the amounts of cholesterol produced by your liver. It’s just that after a cholesterol-rich meal, your liver doesn't need to make as much.
Myth #4: Your cholesterol should be as low as possible
As with almost everything in health and wellness there's a balance that needs to be maintained. There are very few extremes that are going to serve you well.
People with critically low levels of cholesterol have increased risks of developing other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers, as well as severe depression.
Myth #5: Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol balance
It’s always important to remember that you shouldn’t start (or stop) taking any medications without first speaking with your doctor.
While certain medications can certainly lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, they seem to be minimally effective at raising the “good” HDL cholesterol.
But - Guess what does?
That’s right! Proper nutrition and regular exercise!
If you want the most efficient and impactful way to improve your cholesterol levels (without medications) you must be willing to incorporate some form of exercise and commit to eating lots of fruits and veggies. And I’m talking lots (say up to 10 servings) of fruits and veggies a day. Every day…
Don't groan… I’ve even got a recipe here (Hemp Seed and OJ Dressing) to help you add at least one salad to your day.
Lastly, stay vigilant. The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and new discoveries are being made practically every day. That said, there’s no need to fear its complexities. There is always something that can be done from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective in order to improve your cholesterol ratios.
In short: exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better (including quality fats). That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil; while simultaneously ditching those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats.
Until next time – Live loud, Stay Young, and Keep Moving toward a better you!
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