With so many misconceptions regarding cholesterol, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. While it’s true that cholesterol management is essential for a healthy heart, it’s not as simple as avoiding all cholesterol-rich foods or relying solely on medication.
It’s about understanding your risk factors, making smart lifestyle choices, and working closely with your healthcare provider to create a personalised plan for your health.
Myth 1: All Cholesterol Is Bad
Fact: Not all cholesterol is created equal.
Cholesterol is often categorised as “good” (HDL cholesterol) or “bad” (LDL cholesterol). HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol is good because it helps remove excess cholesterol from your bloodstream and transports it to your liver for disposal.
On the other hand, LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol is often considered harmful because high LDL levels can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease. The truth is your body needs some cholesterol to function correctly.
Cholesterol is essential for building cell membranes, producing hormones, and aiding digestion. The key is to maintain a healthy balance between HDL and LDL cholesterol.
Myth 2: Eating Cholesterol-Rich Foods Raises Your Cholesterol Levels
Fact: Dietary cholesterol has less impact on blood cholesterol levels than previously believed.
For years, consuming cholesterol-rich foods like eggs and shrimp was believed to raise your blood cholesterol levels significantly. However, research has shown that dietary cholesterol has a relatively small impact on blood cholesterol levels for most people.
What has a more significant effect on your cholesterol profile is the saturated and trans fats in your diet. These unhealthy fats can raise LDL cholesterol levels. Instead of consuming individual cholesterol-rich foods, focus on a balanced diet that limits saturated and trans fats and includes heart-healthy choices like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Myth 3: Only Older Adults Need to Worry About Cholesterol
Fact: High cholesterol can affect people of all ages.
While it’s true that cholesterol levels tend to rise as you get older, heart disease is not an exclusive concern for the elderly. Poor lifestyle choices, genetics, and other factors can contribute to high cholesterol levels in people of all ages, including children and young adults.
You must check your cholesterol levels regularly to monitor your heart health, starting in your 20s. Your healthcare provider may recommend earlier screenings if you have a family history of heart disease or other risk factors.
Myth 4: Medication Is the Only Solution for High Cholesterol
Fact: Lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on cholesterol levels.
If you’re diagnosed with high cholesterol, you may worry that medication is your only option. While medication can be effective and necessary for some people, lifestyle changes are pivotal in managing cholesterol levels.
Simple changes like adopting a heart-healthy diet, increasing physical activity, and quitting smoking can make a substantial difference. These lifestyle modifications can help lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol, reducing your overall risk of heart disease.
Myth 5: If You Feel Fine, Your Cholesterol Levels Must Be Fine Too
Fact: High cholesterol is often asymptomatic.
One of the most dangerous myths about cholesterol is assuming that if you feel fine, your cholesterol levels must be acceptable, too. Unfortunately, high cholesterol is often symptomless until it causes a more severe issue like a heart attack or stroke.
Regular cholesterol screenings are crucial because they can detect high cholesterol levels before you experience any symptoms. By identifying and managing high cholesterol early, you can take proactive steps to protect your heart health and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Don’t hesitate to seek guidance from healthcare professionals, and take control of your heart health through informed decisions and proactive choices. Your heart will thank you for it, both now and in the years to come.
Affinity Health is South Africa’s leading health coverage provider.