Surprising Cholesterol Myths
High cholesterol and heart disease often go hand-in-hand in our minds. Cholesterol is the villain that should be lowered at all cost if we want to reduce our risk of heart disease, but the cholesterol story and its relationship to heart disease is not so simplistic. Below are 5 myths that shed some light on this fact.
Counting cholesterol grams in food is an effective way to manage your own levels: This is not true. Your cholesterol goes down only one point every time you cut 50 grams of cholesterol from your diet. In addition, it is not clear if eating food high in cholesterol is linked to heart disease. For instance, studies find that eating an egg a day has little effect on the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The lower your total cholesterol the better: No one knows how low it is safe to go, and there is some evidence that your levels can go too low. Research suggests that people with lower cholesterol are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and score more poorly on cognitive tests.
High cholesterol causes heart disease: In my opinion, there is not a clear-cut link here. There are people with high cholesterol who do not succumb to heart disease and there are people who do. In addition, over 50% of people with heart disease do not have high cholesterol. This suggests to me that there are other contributing factors.
Saturated fat raises cholesterol: There are different kinds of saturated fat and not all saturated fat affects cholesterol levels in the same way. As an example, stearic acid is a saturated fat found in dark chocolate and cocoa butter, and it is close to being cholesterol neutral. Dairy fats on the other hand seem to raise levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol the most.
Cholesterol is harmful: In fact, just the opposite is true. It is used by the body to produce essential hormones and facilitate communication among our nerve pathways, among other important functions.
In summary, cholesterol in food doesn’t affect your test results as much as you may have thought, having cholesterol levels that are too low may be an issue because you may be putting yourself at greater risk of depression and other unwanted conditions, high cholesterol alone does not cause heart disease in all people, and there are all kinds of saturated fat and not all saturate fat affects cholesterol in the same way.
So what do you need to know about cholesterol? Instead of relying simply on the total numbers be sure you get the breakdown between LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. Next, calculate the following ratios:
Total Cholesterol/HDL: Anything less than 3.5 is ideal
Triglycerides/HDL: Anything less than 2.0 is ideal
LDL/HDL: Anything less than 3.5 is ideal
If these ratios aren’t where they should be, start making diet and lifestyle changes to bring the ratios back in line. See if your doctor will give you a little bit of time to try out natural approaches first before prescribing medication. If not, work with your doctor while you make diet and lifestyle changes to see if you can gradually reduce the amount of medication you need or even eliminate it over time.