Myths About Cholesterol You Need to Stop Believing

April 1, 2016 9:18 am Last Updated: April 1, 2016 9:18 am

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in the body’s cells. Our bodies make cholesterol in order to make other substances like vitamin D, hormones, or substances to help us digest food.

Cholesterol is also found in the food we eat, like poultry, meat, and dairy products. When we eat foods high in saturated and trans-fats, our livers produce even more cholesterol. When our bodies produce too much cholesterol, plaque develops in the walls of the arteries, which can lead to serious health conditions such as blood clots, stroke, or heart attack.

Arteries are narrowed when fatty deposits called plaques build up inside. Atherosclerosis reduce the blood supply to vital organs such as the heart, brain and intestines.  (ttsz/iStock)
Arteries are narrowed when fatty deposits called plaques build up inside. Atherosclerosis reduces the blood supply to vital organs such as the heart, brain and intestines. (ttsz/iStock)

Although it is important to consult your physician for any advice on lowering and managing cholesterol levels, it is beneficial to know the basics of cholesterol and what is good and bad for you. There is definitely a lot of contradictory information out there, so we are here to debunk some of those myths and get you the information you need.

Here are some common myths about cholesterol and our take on them.

Cholesterol Is a Bad Thing. Cholesterol is necessary to body functions, including cell-membrane stability and the production of hormones. That being said, you can have too much of a good thing. When too much cholesterol circulates in the blood and builds up in arteries, it leads to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. If the artery becomes blocked, a heart attack or stroke can occur.

High Cholesterol Is Caused by What You Eat. This is simply untrue. The biggest factor in cholesterol is not diet but genetics or heredity. The liver is designed to remove excess cholesterol from the body, but genetics play a large part in the liver’s ability to regulate cholesterol to a healthy level.  

Everyone Should Have the Same Cholesterol Levels. There’s not a magic number for everyone. Your cholesterol level actually depends on your health history and other risk factors.

Those with risk factors including smoking, diabetes, or high blood pressure, should aim to have LDL levels (low-density lipoproteins, or “bad cholesterol”) under 160mg/dL for one risk factor, and under 130 mg/dL for two or more risk factors.  If you already have heart disease or diabetes, you should aim for LDL levels under 100 mg/dL.

Children Can’t Have High Cholesterol. Children with faulty livers can have high cholesterol because the liver is unable to remove excess cholesterol from the body. Children can lower their levels by exercising and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat.

It’s Better to Control Your Cholesterol Through Diet Than Medication. For those with significantly high cholesterol levels or a history of atherosclerosis, medications like statins may be needed to help lower cholesterol to healthy levels. Statins can also help decrease inflammation and risk of heart attack.

Margarine Is Better Than Butter for Cholesterol. Margarine is made from vegetable oil, so it does not contain cholesterol, while butter is made from dairy products. However, margarine is high in trans fatty acids, which can raise your LDL levels and lower your HDL levels (high-density lipoproteins, or “good cholesterol”), increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke. Myth debunked!

Dr. David B. Samadi. (Courtesy David B. Samadi)

Dr. David Samadi is the chairman of the urology department and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital. He is a medical correspondent for the FOX News Channel’s Medical A-Team. Learn more at  RoboticOncology.com and visit Dr. Samadi’s blog: SamadiMD.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.