High Cholesterol: Myths & Facts

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High cholesterol or hypercholesterolemia is a very common condition in the US today.  Over 33% or 71 million Americans suffer from too much cholesterol flowing through their veins.  Due to the increasing prevalence, doctors, dietitians, and homeopathic practitioners have come up with a variety of treatments and “cures” to help decrease this potentially deadly condition. 1012cholesterol

As a dietitian, I deal with high cholesterol on a daily basis – especially in my current field of bariatrics.  And it’s important for my patients, and you, to understand the facts about high cholesterol and be aware of the many misconceptions about the condition.  So I’ve debunked some common myths and have pointed out important facts to remember about high cholesterol!

Myths:

  • Being vegetarian helps lower cholesterol.  There are plenty of vegetarian foods that are high in saturated or trans fats and are known to increase your cholesterol – like fried foods, potato chips, high fat dairy products and shelf-stable sweets .  Skipping the meat does NOT equate to lower cholesterol.
  • High cholesterol can always be fixed by lifestyle changes.  Many people have what’s called familial hypercholesterolemia – this basically means regardless of your lifestyle choices, your body naturally produces more LDL and HDL cholesterol due to your genetics.  Medications or other homeopathic remedies may be needed to manage your cholesterol levels in addition to lifestyle changes.
  • Eating a lot of red meat and eggs increases your cholesterol.  While red meat and eggs do contain some saturated fat and cholesterol, it’s far from the biggest culprit behind high cholesterol.  It’s perfectly healthy to consume eggs a few times a week in addition to eating red meat once a week or once every 2 weeks.  Studies have found that foods containing trans fats do much more harm – increasing the bad cholesterol and decreasing the good cholesterol simultaneously – compared to foods containing cholesterol naturally.
  • Cholesterol only comes from the foods you eat.  Your body naturally makes cholesterol on it’s own – you do not need to consume it in your diet.  Cholesterol is involved in the synthesis of new cells, hormone production (estrogen, testosterone and cortisol) and bile production.
  • Statins are the best option for lowering cholesterol.  There has been a lot of debate about the effectiveness and the serious side effects of statins in the news.  I have yet to make an official conclusion myself, but I never recommend using only medication before making lifestyle changes first.  Try changing your eating habits, increase your exercise and quit smoking (if you do).  These options should be exhausted before jumping to prescription medications.

Facts:

  • Increased fiber intake may lower your cholesterol.  Dietary fiber binds to bile molecules in your digestive tract.  This bound bile is no longer able to function as needed and is excreted as a waste product.  To produce more bile, your body uses cholesterol to begin additional bile production – this can decrease your overall cholesterol level.
  • Increased consumption of trans and saturated fat can increase your cholesterol.  Studies have shown now that these types of fats can increase your LDL (bad cholesterol) AND decrease your HDL (good cholesterol).  Minimizing the intake of these types of fats can help prevent high cholesterol.  Click here to see what types of foods contain these fats.
  • Smoking makes high cholesterol more dangerous.  Smoking cigarettes damages the walls of your blood vessels – especially your coronary arteries.  It makes those vessels hard, inelastic and more prone to accumulating fatty deposits which in turn can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
  • Exercise increases your HDL (good) cholesterol.  Whenever you raise your HDL, this may mean a drop in your LDL (bad) cholesterol.  That’s because HDL cholesterol is responsible for transporting LDL to the liver to be excreted – lowering the levels.
  • High cholesterol can be fatal.  High amounts of cholesterol in your blood can lead to or exacerbate atherosclerosis  (the accumulation of cholesterol and other substances in your blood vessels).  The more of the fatty deposits that accumulate, the less blood and oxygen can be transported to your body’s tissues.  This can lead to a stroke or heart attack – both of which can be extremely debilitating or fatal.

Sources:
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-cholesterol/DS00178

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