6 myths you should stop believing about cholesterol

By: Helen West,

6 myths you should stop believing about cholesterol

Do eggs cause high cholesterol? Is coconut oil a miracle food? And are statins really as dangerous as they're made out to be?

Cholesterol is a topic that gets a lot of news coverage. But it can feel like the guidelines keep changing. We hear about good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, high cholesterol...but what does it all mean for you?

It can be hard to separate fact from fiction. To help you out, we've put together this list to tackle the most common myths about cholesterol.

So if you want to know how you can look after your cholesterol and keep your heart healthy, read on!

Myth 1: All cholesterol is bad

False. Not all cholesterol is bad. It's something that our bodies need to function.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance made by the liver. But not all cholesterol is made the same. There are two main types: 'good' cholesterol, and 'bad' cholesterol.

Image illustrating that HDL is the good type of cholesterol and LDL is the bad type

Good cholesterol (or HDL, which stands for high-density lipoprotein) can be eliminated if there's too much of it in your body. But bad cholesterol (or LDL, which stands for low-density lipoprotein) can build up in your arteries. This restricts the flow of blood around your body and increases your risk of conditions like a heart attack or stroke.

But the good news is, there are plenty of things you can do reduce your level of bad cholesterol.

Myth 2: You shouldn't eat eggs if you have high cholesterol

It used to be thought that eating foods that contain cholesterol - like eggs, liver, and kidneys - caused high cholesterol. But we now know that's not true.

The cholesterol we take in from food has almost no impact on the overall amount of cholesterol in our blood.

In fact, high-cholesterol foods like eggs can form an important part of a healthy diet. If you have high cholesterol, it's much more important to reduce the amount of saturated fat that you eat.

Saturated fats increase the levels of 'bad' cholesterol in your blood. This cholesterol then builds up and blocks your arteries, reducing your blood flow. But that doesn't mean you should avoid fat completely...

Myth 3: Fats are bad

This is a great example of where advice can be confusing. We've just told you that saturated fat can raise your levels of bad cholesterol. And now we're telling you that not all fats are bad!

That's because there are several different types of fat. Saturated fats and trans fats are generally bad for you. Fatty meats, butter, cheese, lard, and palm oil are all high in saturated fats. If you want to lower your cholesterol, you should keep these foods to minimum.

Image of a prepared fish on a kitchen counter

Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are a great source of unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats - also known as 'healthy' fats - can help lower the amount of bad cholesterol in your body.

But cutting fat out of your diet completely isn't a good idea. That's because unsaturated fats are vital for a healthy body. Unsaturated fats - also called 'healthy fats' - can even help lower your cholesterol. 

You can find healthy fats in foods like avocados, olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish like salmon. So instead of eliminating fat completely, swap foods containing saturated fats with those that contain unsaturated fats.

Myth 4: Coconut oil will lower your cholesterol

Coconut oil is often described as a health food. But it's important to bear in mind that it's very high in saturated fat.

Just two tablespoons of coconut oil provide 24g of saturated fat. To put that in perspective, the NHS recommends that women eat no more than 20g of saturated far a day, and that men eat no more than 30g.

Some research suggests that coconut oil could reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood. But the truth is, we still don't know the real impact of coconut oil.

So for the time being, you're better off sticking with oils that we know are high in unsaturated fats. These include olive oil, sunflower oil, and rapeseed oil.

Myth 5: I don't need to worry about my cholesterol because I don't have any symptoms

High cholesterol is sometimes called 'the silent killer'. That's because it doesn't cause any symptoms. So you could have high cholesterol and not know it.

Some lifestyle factors can increase your risk of having high cholesterol. These include an unhealthy diet, a lack of exercise, obesity, drinking alcohol excessively, and smoking.

Image shows healthy ingredients being prepared in a kitchen

People who eat an unhealthy diet - particularly one that is high in saturated fats - are more likely to have high cholesterol. But diet isn't the only fact that can affect your cholesterol levels. Genetics and family history also play an important part.

Genetic factors also play a role. You're more at risk of having high cholesterol if you have a family history of coronary heart disease or stroke, or if you have a family history of a cholesterol-related condition. If you have a long-term condition like high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, or hypothyroidism, you are also at an increased risk.

If you think you might have high cholesterol, it's a good idea to book an appointment with your GP. They will be able to check your cholesterol levels using a simple blood test.

Myth 6: Statins have lots of dangerous side effects 

The media likes to make a lot out of cases involving the side effects of statins.

Statins are a medication prescribed to help lower cholesterol. They've been rumoured to cause everything from memory loss to liver problems. But the truth is that very few people experience any negative side effects from statins.

Just 1 in every 10,000 people who take statins will experience a potentially dangerous side effect. And statins can help reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke, especially in those who haven't been able to lower their cholesterol with lifestyle changes.

It is true, however, that some types of statins interact with grapefruit juice. So if you're fond of having a glass of grapefruit juice in the morning, check with your GP to see if the statin you are on is likely to react to it. If you really can't give up your favourite fruit, it might be possible to switch to a statin that can be taken with it.

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