Don’t be Afraid of Cholesterol, We Need It!Ann
Don’t be afraid of cholesterol, we need it!
Last year, after going for my annual health screening, I realised that my total cholesterol was slightly above 200mg/dL, which was deemed as borderline higher than desirable. That’s when alarm bells began ringing, because high cholesterol was synonymous with high blood pressure, heart attack and death.
I remembered myself uttering these words in front of the doctor, “My cholesterol is high and I’m really scared.” But as the doctor slowly explained and put my fear to rest, I was amazed by how little I knew about cholesterol. If cholesterol ever triggers some anxiety in you, rest assured that you aren’t alone. Since sharing is caring, let me share with you my list of 5 unwarranted myths that I have learned to defuse. Do check them out and I hope you could pick up a few bite-sized facts to steer away from these common misconceptions.
Myth 1: Cholesterol is bad for you
Cholesterol is usually portrayed as the all-time notorious villain responsible for life-threatening heart attack or stroke. But today, I’m going to attempt to bring some justice back to its poor soul because it is completely misleading to call cholesterol an evil artery-clogging fat. Cholesterol performs so many important functions in our bodies. Firstly, cholesterol is a fundamental element of cell membranes1. Secondly, our bodies need this waxy whitish-yellow fat to produce hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help us digest food2. Simply put, we can’t survive without cholesterol.
What’s more? Not all cholesterol types have equal effects on our cardiovascular health. For example, normal to high HDL cholesterol levels are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than low HDL cholesterol levels. On the contrary, high LDL cholesterol levels are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease3. So cholesterol is not inherently bad. If it were, our livers wouldn’t produce it in the first place. Nevertheless, I hope this won’t ever become your excuse to skip vegetables in favour of a hamburger.
Myth 2: High cholesterol is a good predictor of heart disease
This is probably the most commonly held, yet mistaken, belief that has triggered fear over cholesterol for most of us. Fret not! There is no evidence to support that high levels of total cholesterol or of “bad” cholesterol causes heart disease4, according to a new paper by 17 international physicians based on a review of patient data of almost 1.3 million people.
Does this mean I can completely disregard my high cholesterol levels? That’s also not true. Although high blood cholesterol unlikely predicts whether someone will have heart disease or not, it is still one of the risk factors. As I became aware of my high cholesterol level, I began to be more mindful about other risk factors contributing to the possibility of developing heart disease. Some factors such as family history or aging are definitely beyond my control, but other factors such as body weight, physical exercise and diet are within my control and definitely on my to-do list to keep heart disease at bay.
Myth 3: Your diet dictates your cholesterol levels
When I was a child, my family raised chickens in our backyard. My favourite breakfast was a sunny-side up with toast, but my grandpa always said, “Chicken eggs are full of cholesterol, which is bad for your health.” Back then, I never really understood the logic, yet I used to assume if someone had high cholesterol, it’s because they’re not eating right. In contrast, however, the amount of cholesterol in our diet and in our blood are very different things owing to how cholesterol is produced.
Cholesterol circulating in our blood stream comes from two sources. The liver produces around 80% of the cholesterol we need to stay healthy and only around 20% comes from foods5 derived from animals such as meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products.When we eat less cholesterol, our body makes more. When we consume more cholesterol, our bodies reduce its cholesterol production6. Since our bodies tightly regulate cholesterol levels in our blood, diet has fewer effects on blood cholesterol levels as compared to how well our liver functions. Therefore, it’s crucial to keep our liver as healthy as possible. If you want to give your liver a little boost, come and check out the Perfect Desiccated Liver Capsules. It’s my trusted daily supplement that I take to help my liver feel good inside out.
Myth 4: Children can’t have high cholesterol
I recently caught up with a colleague. She was extremely worried because her son was diagnosed with a very high level of cholesterol. I was shocked because her son was only 18 years old. Too young to be concerned about cholesterol, right?
It turns out I was totally wrong sincehigh cholesterol can actually be inherited. This condition is often referred to as familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), owing to a possible mutation in chromosome 197. Children with this genetic disorder are at high risk of premature coronary heart disease. Globally, one baby is born with FH every minute8. Fortunately, if diagnosed and treated early in childhood, individuals with FH can have a normal life expectancy. But that’s a very big ‘if’ because this problem is often underdiagnosed and undertreated worldwide.
Since it’s better to be safe than sorry, you might want to consider FH screening for your kids if your family history fits in either of these categories:
- A parent or grandparent who had evidence of coronary atherosclerosis, peripheral vascular disease or cerebrovascular disease.
- A parent or grandparent who has had a coronary artery procedure.
- A parent or grandparent who has had a heart attack or sudden cardiac death before age 55.
- A parent who has a history of high total cholesterol levels (240 mg/dL or higher).
Myth 5: If the Nutrition Facts label shows no cholesterol, a food is “heart-healthy”
As part of my efforts to maintain a healthy diet, I started to pay attention to the Nutrition Facts label of food items before purchasing them. But if you think opting for labels showing zero cholesterol is good enough to ensure a “heart-healthy” diet, then think again. Many foods marketed as “low-cholesterol” have high levels of saturated or trans fats, both of which raise blood cholesterol. Even foods titled “low-fat” may have a surprisingly high-fat content9.This means no, cholesterol does not make a food “heart-healthy” at all.
Puzzled? Don’t fret! Been there, done that. And if you want to keep your cholesterol levels in check, below is my quick guide for you to know what to watch out in Nutrition Facts labels based on the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
- Cholesterol: Eat as little as possible because wedon’t need to obtain cholesterol from foods.
- Saturated fats: Limit these fats to less than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake. Opt to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats as often as possible.
- Trans fat: Eat little to no synthetic trans fat to minimise its LDL-cholesterol-raising effect.
Happen to know other common myths about cholesterol? I would love to hear from you, so don’t forget to leave a comment below. Since knowledge is power, let’s help each other debunk the myths as well as defuse unwarranted dread so that we can all enjoy a healthy and happy life.