7 Myths About High Cholesterol
- The Low-Down on Common High Cholesterol MythsWe hear a lot about cholesterol, but is what we hear what we actually need to know? Cholesterol numbers may seem simple, but there can be confusion about what they mean. Find out the good, the bad and the misunderstood about cholesterol and how it affects your health.
- Myth No. 1: My total cholesterol number is what counts.While your total cholesterol number should be below 200, doctors don’t look at that figure in a vacuum. They take other factors into account, such as a family history of heart disease, your weight, and whether you lead a healthy lifestyle. Together with your numbers—and that includes your HDL (the ”good” cholesterol), LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides (another fat that circulates in your body)—your doctor can get a good picture of your 10-year risk for heart disease.
- Myth No. 2: I'm too young to need to know my cholesterol count.Because your cholesterol levels are such a good predictor of the risk of heart disease, you should have your cholesterol measured at least once every five years, starting at age 20. That may sound early, but what you don’t know can hurt you, so ask your doctor to do a simple blood test to measure the three components of a cholesterol count: HDL, LDL and triglycerides. That information can help your doctor work with you to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, even if it’s decades away, by avoiding plaque buildup over the years that can block your blood vessels.
- Myth No. 3: You should avoid foods that have high cholesterol.Most of the excess cholesterol in our blood comes from foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, like fatty meats and processed foods. Food that contains a high level of cholesterol itself, like shellfish or eggs, are less of a concern. If you focus your diet on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and plant-based proteins, you can’t go wrong—as long as your portion sizes are reasonable and you stay active. Your body will help you: your HDL cholesterol removes harmful LDL cholesterol from your blood and eliminates it. That’s why you want the HDL to be high.
- Myth No. 4: Cholesterol medicines have harmful side effects.Most people tolerate statins, the most commonly prescribed medications for high cholesterol, very well. Statins are very efficient in reducing the risk of heart disease from high cholesterol. Occasionally, though, statins can cause muscle aches. If they do, ask your doctor about lowering your statin dosage or taking the supplement coenzyme Q10, which can help with aches and pains. In a very small number of people, statins may cause some muscle damage, a rise in certain liver enzymes, or an increased risk of diabetes, but your doctor can monitor you for these side effects and change your medication as needed.
- Myth No. 5: High cholesterol runs in my family so there’s nothing I can do to lower mine.Even if you have a genetic tendency toward high cholesterol, doctors can still treat you effectively. A cardiologist, who specializes in treating heart conditions and risk of heart disease, can manage your medications and try different combinations of drugs to get those bad LDL numbers down and raise the level of your HDL, the good cholesterol. No matter what your family history is or what medications you are on, a healthy lifestyle will also contribute to a healthy heart.
- Myth No. 6: High cholesterol only affects the heart.Cholesterol is a waxy substance that circulates in your bloodstream, so wherever your blood goes, so goes the cholesterol. Heart disease is the most common result of the hardening of the arteries caused by plaque buildup from too much cholesterol, but the problem is actually systemic. Cholesterol can narrow the vessels leading to the kidneys and cause kidney disease; narrow the arteries to the brain, increasing the risk of stroke; or even affect the legs and result in peripheral artery disease.
- Myth No. 7: Your cholesterol level can be too low.Some people believe, wrongly, that having a very low cholesterol count will impair their muscle function or their memory. There’s no evidence to support this belief, however. Doctors point out that infants have extremely low LDL levels during active periods of tissue development. Many cultures outside the United States also have much lower cholesterol counts than most Americans, with no adverse effects. In fact, some have virtually no heart disease at all. In short, when it comes to LDL cholesterol, you can’t go too low.
Get the Facts Behind These 7 Common High Cholesterol Myths