You knew there was a bit of an over-emphasis (border-lining on obsession) about cholesterol, right?
Before we jump into some myths let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to what exactly cholesterol is.
The first thing we need to understand is that, in the chemical sense, cholesterol is a true molecule. Unfortunately, the medical community uses the same term (cholesterol) as a measure of large groups of molecules that include molecular cholesterol; these being HDL, LDL and triglycerides.
I’ll denote the difference between the two using cholesterol (CHM) for the molecule, or cholesterol (MED) for the medical term.
Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is cholesterol
While cholesterol (CHM) is an actual molecule, what it is bound to while it’s floating through your blood is what’s more important than just how much of it there is overall. In fact depending on what it’s combined with can have opposite effects on your arteries and heart. Yes, opposite!
So cholesterol (CHM) is just one component of compounds that float around your blood. These compounds also contain fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.
They’re grouped into two main categories:
- HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol (MED)) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol (CHM) back to the liver.
- LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol (MED)) that transports cholesterol (CHM) from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become 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 in a blood test.
So “cholesterol” (MED) isn’t simply cholesterol (CHM) because 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
Cholesterol (CHM) 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 absorb dietary fats. Not to mention that it’s incorporated into the membranes of your cells.
Talk about an important molecule!
The overall amount of cholesterol (MED) 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 (MED) 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 (CHM) increases your bad cholesterol (MED)
Most of the cholesterol (CHM) in your blood is made by your liver. It’s actually not from the cholesterol you eat. Why do you think cholesterol medications block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact)? ‘Cause that’s where it’s made!
What you eat still can affect how much cholesterol (CHM) your liver produces. After a cholesterol-rich meal your liver doesn’t need to make as much.
Myth #4: Your cholesterol (MED & CHM) should be as low as possible
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.
People with too-low levels of cholesterol (MED) have increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers, as well as suicide. People with too-low levels of cholesterol (CHM) can suffer from hormone imbalance.
Myth #5: Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol (MED) balance
Don’t start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.
And while drugs can certainly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol (MED) they don’t seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol (MED) all that well.
Guess what does?
Nutrition and exercise, baby (you knew I was going to say that, right?)!
One of the most impactful ways to balance your cholesterol (MED) with diet is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. I mean lots, say up to 10 servings a day. Every day.
Don’t worry the recipe below should help you add at least another salad to your day.
You can (should?) also exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better quality fats. That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil. Ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats.
The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we’re learning more every day. You may not need to be as afraid of it as you are. And there is a lot you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve your cholesterol balance.
Want to learn more?
Most people know that regular movement, eating well, sleep, and stress management are important for looking and feeling better. Yet they need help applying that knowledge in the context of their busy, sometimes stressful lives.
That’s why we work closely with ExecLevel Wellness clients to help them improve their health… no matter what challenges they’re dealing with. We believe that how you feel greatly impacts your ability to lead and age well in all areas of life.
Recipe (Dressing to go with your salad):
Orange Hemp Seed Dressing
Makes about ¾ cup
- ½ cup hemp seeds
- ½ cup orange juice
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled
- dash salt and/or pepper
Blend all ingredients together until creamy.
Serve on top of your favorite salad and Enjoy!
Tip: Store extra in airtight container in the fridge. Will keep for about a week.