Do you believe all the cholesterol myths you hear or are you even aware there are myths out there?
You know there is a bit of an over-emphasis (borderline obsession) about cholesterol, right?
I mean, how many commercials and ads do you see/hear about cholesterol medicine? How many people do you hear of that have “high cholesterol” and are being put on those medications? (psa–I’m not saying get off them or don’t get on them. That’s between you and your doctor.)
Before we jump into some cholesterol myths, let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to what exactly cholesterol is.
Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is Cholesterol
Cholesterol is an actually a molecule. It’s a waxy, fat-like substance found in all the cells in your body, BUT what it is bound to while floating through your blood is more important than just how much of it there is overall. In fact, depending on what it’s combined with, in your blood, it may have an opposite effect on your arteries and heart. Yes, opposite!
So cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood. These compounds contain cholesterol as well as fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”. Think of lipoproteins as the vehicle that transports cholesterol through the body.
Lipoproteins are grouped into two main categories:
High-Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver from body tissues.
Low-Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) transports cholesterol from the liver to the cells in the body (Plus, it’s the kind that accumulates in arteries and becomes easily oxidized hence their “badness”).
And yes, it’s even more complicated than this. Each of these categories is further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured by a blood test.
So “cholesterol” isn’t simply cholesterol. It has very different effects on your body depending on which other molecules it’s bound to in your blood and what it is actually doing there.
Myth #2: Cholesterol is Bad
Of all the cholesterol myths I heard in my childhood, I remember this one. In case you heard this one a lot, like me, let me explain why the opposite is true.
Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce critical things like vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun; your sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone); as well as bile to help you break down carbohydrates, fats & proteins; and regulate your digestion.
Plus, the brain and nervous system depend on cholesterol to create 2 of your “happy chemicals”– serotonin and dopamine. Not to mention it’s incorporated into the membranes of your cells to make sure they aren’t too fluid, are firm enough, & aren’t too permeable (allowing things to pass through) to some molecules.
Talk about an important molecule!
The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) isn’t nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood.
While way too much LDL cholesterol as compared with HDL (the LDL:HDL ratio) may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease 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. It’s actually not from the cholesterol you eat. (Remember being scared of eating eggs, especially the yolk?! Now it’s known that cholesterol ain’t so bad.)
You may also wonder how cholesterol meds even work. Well, they aren’t blocking the food you’re eating. They block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact). ‘Cause the liver is where it’s made!
What you eat can still affect how much cholesterol your liver produces. If you eat a cholesterol-rich meal, your liver doesn’t make as much. But, if you eat a meal that doesn’t contain cholesterol, your liver will increase production. Isn’t it fascinating that the body can determine this?!
Myth #4: Your Cholesterol Should Be as Low as Possible
One of the dangerous cholesterol myths is “lower is better”.
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.
Did you know if your cholesterol is too low you may be at greater risk for depression, anxiety, certain types of cancer, suicide & even an increased risk of death? Just know..HDL helps clear the LDL from your body. So, the less HDL you have in your blood, the less LDL can be cleared from your body.
Myth #5: Drugs are the Only Way to Balance Your Cholesterol
**Do not start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.
But believing you can’t do anything except take a statin to balance/lower your cholesterol is just another one of the cholesterol myths. Yes, drugs can lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol, but the thing they don’t seem to be able to do is to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol very well.
Guess what does?
Nutrition and exercise, baby!
One of the most impactful ways to lower your cholesterol with diet is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. (More veggies than fruit in case you’re wondering). I mean lots, like up to 10 servings a day. Every. Single. Day.
If you have a hard time getting in that many, don’t worry. The recipe below should help you add more veg (and fiber) to your day. You can also get more into your diet by including a smoothie every day. You can check out THIS post for some great smoothie ideas.
Side note: Did you know that just 3g of soluble fiber a day can lower your LDL by 5-10% and give your HDL a boost?
Another thing you should avoid if you’re concerned about your cholesterol is sugar because it “gums things up”. The less added sugar you eat, the higher your HDL (this is good) & the lower your triglycerides (fat in your blood) levels will be (another Yay!). Large amounts of added sugar will more than triple your risk for high cholesterol. This means a greater risk for heart disease
You can (should?) also exercise, lose weight (a big needle mover), stop smoking, and eat better quality fats. That means foods like wild caught salmon, avocados, “raw” nuts/seeds, and olive oil. You should also ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats (fried or fast-food, cakes/pies/cookies, margarine, canola oil, crackers, processed foods, etc) to help naturally balance your HDL & LDL levels.
The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and research is being done all the time. There may not be a need to be as terrified of cholesterol as we have been in the past. Plus, there is a lot you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle standpoint to start improving your cholesterol levels.
Orange Hemp Seed Dressing
- ½ C Hemp Seeds
- ½ C Fresh Orange Juice
- 1 Clove of Garlic Peeled
- Dash Salt and/or Pepper
Toss all ingredients into a blender & blend all ingredients together until creamy.
Serve on top of your favorite salad (or use as a veggie dip) and Enjoy!
- Store extra in an airtight container in the fridge. It will keep for about a week.
- If the dressing is too thick, add a bit of water to thin.
If you suffer from “high cholesterol” have you tried changing your eating and exercise habits? If you need help with that, set up a Free Discovery Call HERE so we can chat about your needs.