Heart Health Myth Busters: Cholesterol Edition
We are celebrating National Cholesterol Education Month by debunking four common myths about cholesterol.
Myth #1: High cholesterol is only a concern for a certain group of people.
High cholesterol is an equal opportunity problem. It can affect anyone regardless of age, weight and gender. The American Heart Association recommends getting your cholesterol checked as young as 20. And high cholesterol can affect people even younger than that if they’re born with a genetic condition known as familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). Weight does play a factor, but just because some people “can eat anything without gaining a pound” doesn’t mean they should. They are still at risk due to the amount of saturated and trans fats they may consume. Not to mention that both men and women tend to see higher cholesterol levels as they get older and gain weight.
Myth #2: All cholesterol is bad cholesterol.
The body naturally produces cholesterol because it is essential to building cells and producing much needed hormones for the body. The idea of good and bad cholesterol comes from the two lipoproteins that are used to carry cholesterol through the blood. LDL, low density lipoproteins, are known as the “bad” cholesterol. Too much can build up plaque in the walls of blood vessels and restrict blood flow from the heart. The restricted blood flow is what causes chest pain and heart attacks. So, high levels of LDL can raise the risk of heart disease and stroke. HDL, high density lipoproteins, on the other hand is referred to as “good” cholesterol. Your body uses this cholesterol to create necessary hormones. High levels of HDL can help lower the risk of heart disease.
Myth #3: Diet and exercise alone can help lower cholesterol.
In many cases, diet and exercise do help lower cholesterol. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends starting with exercise. However, diet and exercise alone may not be the only factors that play into your cholesterol levels, particularly for:
- People with Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH): Their high level of LDL is genetic, so dieting and exercising will likely not be enough to lower their cholesterol.
- People with cardiovascular disease (CVD): Since plaque has already narrowed their arteries, they’re at risk of a heart attack or stroke.
- People with diabetes: Type 2 diabetes raises LDL and lowers HDL, so additional assistance is needed to combat what one illness does to the other.
Myth #4: There is nothing I can do to change my cholesterol levels.
This might be the most damaging myth of all. Giving in to passive or self-defeating thinking won’t help your cholesterol levels. The healthy choice: Be proactive. Here are some constructive actions you can take right now:
- Talk to your doctor
- Know your family history
- Be active and eat healthy
- Sign up for a Healthy Heart Box to join a community of wellness
You’re not powerless — and you’re not alone. The Let’s Be Well team is here to help.