The Top 5 Cholesterol Myths


Myth 3: Kids can't have high cholesterol
Most people think high cholesterol is a problem that's strictly for the middle-aged. But guess what? Research has shown that atherosclerosis—the narrowing of the arteries that leads to heart attacks—can start as early as age eight. In July 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines on kids and cholesterol that recommended that children who are overweight, have hypertension, or have a family history of heart disease have their cholesterol tested as young as two years of age.

Children with high cholesterol should be on a diet that restricts saturated fat to 7% of calories and no more than 200 mg per day of dietary cholesterol, according to the guidelines. Fiber supplements and more exercise are also recommended.

While the guidelines prompted a bit of an outcry from parents worried that doctors would be pushing cholesterol-lowering drugs for kids, a new study suggests that less than 1% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 would be considered candidates for medication.

Myth 4: Food is heart-healthy if it says "0 mg cholesterol"
The Cholesterol portion of the nutritional label refers to dietary cholesterol, which is only one of the things found in food that can cause your cholesterol to go sky-high. (A bigger contributor to elevated cholesterol? A high-fat diet.) It's also believed to be the least important. Saturated fat (found in animal foods and dairy products) and trans fats (found in packaged foods) appear to have a far greater impact on low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called bad cholesterol that causes atherosclerosis, than dietary cholesterol.

Myth 5: Cholesterol is always a bad thing
When most people hear "cholesterol" they think "bad." Like most things in life, the reality is more complex. High cholesterol can be dangerous, but cholesterol itself is essential to various bodily processes, from insulating nerve cells in the brain to providing structure for cell membranes. That's why your body makes the white, waxy substance (about 75% of the cholesterol in your blood is made by the liver and cells elsewhere in your body).

The role of cholesterol in heart disease is often misunderstood. Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream by low-density and high-density lipoproteins (LDL and HDL). LDL, known as bad cholesterol, and not the cholesterol it carries per se, is responsible for atherosclerosis.
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Last Updated: February 19, 2009

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