Of all the compounds present in our body, cholesterol is perhaps one of the best known. But a lot of misinformation surrounds this fatty substance, although it is known to everyone. In this article, we shed some light on cholesterol.
Cholesterol is an essential component of animal cell membranes. As such, it is synthesized by all animal cells. Despite its bad reputation, cholesterol is essential for life. However, when present in high levels in the blood, it increases the risk of cancer and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cholesterol, along with other substances, such as fats and calcium, accumulate in plaques on the walls of the arteries. Over time, this narrows blood vessels and can lead to complications, including stroke or heart attack.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that high cholesterol levels are responsible for 2.6 million deaths each year.
1. All cholesterol is bad
As we mentioned in the introduction, cholesterol is an essential component of cell membranes. In addition to its structural role in membranes, it is also essential in the production of steroid hormones, vitamin D and bile acid. So, although high levels are a risk factor for disease, without cholesterol we could not survive. Our body was not designed to live in an environment where food was in excess, and so when cholesterol is in excess, it will be deposited in our body. And that dumping center can often be our blood vessels, and that’s where it’s bad for us. Beyond the functions of cholesterol in the body, the way it is transported also makes a difference in whether it is harmful to health.
Cholesterol is carried around the body by lipoproteins, which are substances made up of fats and proteins. This transport is carried out in two main ways.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) transports cholesterol from the liver to cells, where it is used in several processes. LDL is sometimes referred to as “bad” cholesterol because high levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are often called “good” cholesterol because they carry cholesterol back to the liver. Once there, the cholesterol is eliminated from the body, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
2. I’m a healthy weight, so I can’t have high cholesterol
And if! Cholesterol balance is really a function of what we eat but also of our genetics. For example, a person may be born with a genetic tendency not to process cholesterol effectively. This is called familial hypercholesterolemia. It may affect one in 200 people. Weight is more a function of your hereditary metabolism and the balance between calories in and calories out. Even if you are at a healthy weight, your cholesterol may be abnormal. Other factors that affect your cholesterol are the foods you eat, your exercise habits, whether or not you smoke, and how much alcohol you drink.
Also, people who are at a healthy weight may have high cholesterol, while some overweight people may not have high cholesterol. Cholesterol levels are affected by genetics, thyroid function, medications, exercise, sleep, and diet. There are also factors that you cannot change that can contribute to high cholesterol, such as your age.
3. I would have symptoms if I had high cholesterol
This is another myth. In most cases, high cholesterol does not cause symptoms. This is why it is recommended to do periodic blood tests to detect hypercholesterolemia. The age at which you start screening and the frequency of screening are determined by your individual risk factors. The only “symptoms” cholesterol can be associated with would be late symptoms, when excess cholesterol buildup is responsible for heart and blood vessel damage and blockages. This causes chest pain (angina pectoris), heart attack, and even sudden death. High cholesterol causes plaque to build up silently in the arteries until it is so severe that strokes or heart attacks occur.
4. If I eat a lot of cholesterol, my cholesterol will be high
This subject is a little more complex than one might think. The cholesterol that we consume is not necessarily in direct correlation with the cholesterol level. Consuming sugars, or simple carbohydrates, can lead to higher cholesterol even if someone is not eating a lot of cholesterol. People who exercise are less likely to see their cholesterol levels rise after eating cholesterol, compared to people who are sedentary.
If we consume more cholesterol, we will most likely have an increase in cholesterol. You don’t go to the store to buy a packet of cholesterol, but you buy red meat, cheeses and eggs. Red meat contains saturated fat and cholesterol. Cholesterol is an animal product, so items that contain saturated fat will not only raise cholesterol, but specifically “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, which then deposits in the arterial walls of our blood vessels.
5. Everyone Should Aim for the Same Cholesterol Goals
It’s wrong ! Your target cholesterol level depends on your history of certain diseases. Like heart attacks and strokes and your risk of developing these problems, which depends on things like age and whether you have high blood pressure. For those of us who haven’t had cardiovascular problems, LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) should be below 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). But if you have heart or blood vessel disease, a history of heart attack, stroke, or other arterial vascular disease, and especially if you have diabetes, the LDL cholesterol goal should be below 70 mg/ dl or even less.
6. Only Men Need to Worry About Their Cholesterol Levels
This is a persistent myth, but it is not true. Women, after losing the protective effects of estrogen, begin to increase their risk of heart disease and develop the same risk as men. “In fact, as women develop heart disease at a later age and live longer, there are more heart attacks each year in the female population than in men. When women have a heart attack, they tend to have worse outcomes, and women have a much higher risk of dying from heart disease than from breast cancer.
7. I can’t do anything about high cholesterol
This claim, fortunately, is false. In addition to taking medication to lower your cholesterol, you can also improve your cholesterol levels by maintaining a healthy weight, eating the right foods, exercising, avoiding smoking and avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol. Diet and exercise are always the first steps and remain extremely important.
8. I take statins so I can eat whatever I want.
It wouldn’t be nice if that were true “but it’s not.” If you eat what you want and consume excess calories, you will gain weight. When you gain too much weight, especially in the belly area, you can develop a condition called metabolic syndrome, which is a prediabetic condition. Statins are not weight loss drugs. Their role is to lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and your role is to treat your body with respect, which includes what you eat.
9. I’m under 40, so I don’t need to get my cholesterol checked
Although there is some debate about when to start screening for high cholesterol, it is best to start screening as early as age 20. Indeed, the longer your blood vessels are bathed in blood containing too high a level of cholesterol, the more your risk of cardiovascular disease increases later in life. Recommendations state that the first cholesterol check should be done during adolescence, and if you have a strong family history, it should be done earlier.
For people with homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia, cholesterol should be checked by age 2.