8 Surprising Facts About Cholesterol

  • caretaker assisting senior man with walker in medical facility
    1. High Cholesterol Rates Are Falling
    You probably know that high LDL ("bad") cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease. But you might not know that the prevalence of high LDL in U.S. adults actually fell during the last decade. One reason is greater use of cholesterol-lowering medication by those who need it. There's still plenty of room for improvement, however. Currently, about one in six adults has high cholesterol.

  • Doctor reviewing medical chart with senior man
    2. There's a Connection With Prostate Cancer
    Getting your cholesterol under control can reduce your risk of having a heart attack or needing heart bypass surgery. But there may be other, lesser-known benefits as well. In one study, men with lower cholesterol were less likely to have a deadly form of prostate cancer than those whose cholesterol was high.

  • Male doctor's hand examining sheet of brain MRI scans
    3. Cholesterol Affects the Brain
    Cholesterol is crucial for healthy brain function, including learning and memory. Yet you can have too much of a good thing. In a recent study, middle-aged volunteers worked on memory tasks while undergoing brain imaging. Those with high cholesterol showed less activity in three of the brain's memory centers.

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    4. There's a Link With Alzheimer's Disease
    There may also be a connection between cholesterol and Alzheimer's disease. In a study in Neurology, researchers looked at brain tissue from autopsies. They found that high cholesterol in the blood was associated with amyloid plaques in the brain—abnormal deposits of protein between brain cells. Such plaques are typical of Alzheimer's.

  • Mature woman in thought
    5. Cholesterol Rises After Menopause
    In women before menopause, estrogen helps keep cholesterol in check. But within a year of a woman's last menstrual period, there is often a sharp rise in total and LDL cholesterol. This may help explain why the risk of having a heart attack increases dramatically in women after age 55.

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    6. You Should Start Testing Early
    The chance of having high cholesterol rises as you get older. But problems start young in some people. All adults ages 20 and older should have a cholesterol blood test at least once every five years. Testing is also recommended for some children, including those who are obese or have a strong family history of heart disease.

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    7. Trans and Saturated Fat Matter, Too
    Eating a heart-smart diet is important. And that means more than simply choosing foods with little or no cholesterol. Such foods may still contain saturated or trans fat. These fats actually have the biggest dietary effect on blood cholesterol, so be sure to check for them in the Nutrition Facts on a food's label.

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    8. Low Cholesterol Is No Guarantee
    Cholesterol numbers count. Yet they don't tell the whole story. In fact, a large national study found that nearly half of patients hospitalized for a heart attack had LDL levels in the optimal range. So listen to your cholesterol—but also heed your other risk factors, such as elevated triglycerides, smoking, physical inactivity and high blood pressure.

8 Surprising Facts About Cholesterol

About The Author

  1. Matthews KA, et al. Are Changes in Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Midlife Women Due to Chronological Aging or to the Menopausal Transition? Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2009;54(25):2366-73.
  2. Matsuzaki T, et al. Association of Alzheimer Disease Pathology with Abnormal Lipid Metabolism: The Hisayama Study. Neurology. 2011(77):1068-75.
  3. Gonzales MM, et al. Current Serum Lipoprotein Levels and fMRI Response to Working Memory in Midlife. Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders. 2011(31):259-67.
  4. Sachdeva A, et al. Lipid Levels in Patients Hospitalized with Coronary Artery Disease: An Analysis of 136,905 Hospitalizations in Get With The Guidelines. American Heart Journal. 2009(157):111-7.
  5. Platz EA, et al. Men with Low Serum Cholesterol Have a Lower Risk of High-Grade Prostate Cancer in the Placebo Arm of the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention. 2009(18)11:2807-13.
  6. Schreurs, BG. The Effects of Cholesterol on Learning and Memory. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 2010(34)8:1366-79.
  7. Trends in High Levels of Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol in the United States, 1999-2006. JAMA. 2009(302)19:2104-10.
  8. What Is Alzheimer’s? Alzheimer’s Association. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp
  9. Cholesterol Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_cholesterol.htm
  10. Common Misconceptions About Cholesterol. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Common-Mis...
  11. Understanding Food Nutrition Labels. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Understanding-Food-Nutrition-Lab...
  12. What Is Cholesterol? National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc
  13. What Causes High Blood Cholesterol? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc/causes

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 31
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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