High cholesterol numbers. Many people want achieve to a high I.Q., high athletic performance, and even have high self-esteem, but no one wants high cholesterol numbers. Could it be that we’ve been duped by clever pharmaceutical ads that plague the television and radio waves? Is the “high cholesterol pandemic” really a product of slick marketing that has birthed an outbreak of cholesterol myths? After all, statin cholesterol-lowering drugs were among the top-selling prescriptions in 2011 with Lipitor reaching $7.7 billion in sales. So, what’s all the fuss about high cholesterol numbers? Is having high cholesterol really bad? That is a great question and one that more people should be asking – it’s time to uncover the truth about modern cholesterol myths!
Myth #1: Cholesterol is bad for you.
You might be surprised to learn that the human body actually needs cholesterol. That’s right – cholesterol is actually our friend; it’s not evil or dangerous. In reality, cholesterol is essential to life. This steroid compound is a vital part of many body functions – we need it! Here’s why:
- Cholesterol is useful for digestion; cholesterol is the raw material required for the production of bile, which helps the body digest fatty foods.
- Cholesterol is needed for vitamin D production. Vitamin D is manufactured from cholesterol through exposure to sunlight on the skin. Unless an adequate amount of cholesterol is present, vitamin D will not be properly converted.
- Cholesterol helps the body build new cells. The membranes of human cells allow substances to pass back and forth, in and out of the cell. Cholesterol is the chief material in cell membranes that aids this semi-permeability function – letting nutrients enter the cell and allowing wastes to exit the cell.
- Cholesterol is used to make hormones, including the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen.
- Cholesterol is needed for proper functioning of serotonin receptors, the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain. In fact, low cholesterol levels have been linked to violent behavior, depression and suicide.
- Cholesterol is also necessary for male fertility. It is a required substance for sperm development.
Myth #2: Having “normal” cholesterol numbers means you’re safe from heart disease.
The belief that high cholesterol numbers cause atherosclerosis and subsequent heart disease is a fundamental precept of modern medicine. But, many research studies confirm that 50% of people suffering from heart attacks have normal cholesterol numbers based on the standard testing. One particular study, published in the American Heart Journal, revealed that as many as 72% of patients admitted in American hospitals for their first heart attack had blood cholesterol numbers in the normal range. The heart of the matter – having high cholesterol numbers does not equate to having heart disease, and having normal cholesterol numbers does not necessarily put you in the clear.
When cholesterol levels become elevated, it indicates the liver is producing more cholesterol in response to a need somewhere else in the body. It is much more important to try to find out what those underlying causes are and deal with them rather than just take a pill to lower your cholesterol numbers.
You see, just lowering blood cholesterol numbers alone will not change any of the true root causes of your heart disease risk. As a result, getting the cholesterol numbers down via drugs may give a false sense of security that all is well when the risk is still raging on.
Myth #3: All LDL cholesterol is bad.
You are probably aware that there are two types of cholesterol: LDL cholesterol called “bad” cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol called “good” cholesterol. But, what you may not know is that there are actually “good” types of “bad” cholesterol. Confusing, right?
In reality, LDL cholesterol is only dangerous when it becomes oxidized. In order to test for high blood cholesterol, your physician may order a routine blood test called a lipid profile. This test measures your total cholesterol numbers, HDL, LDL and triglycerides. But, the test does not measure for the oxidized form of the LDL called Lp(a). Lp(a) causes the formation of blood clots. While a person could have a high LDL test, they may actually have a low Lp(a), meaning their risk of blood clots is relatively low. Therefore, you should consider additional testing to help determine your true heart disease risk:
- VAP Test: This blood test identifies hidden cholesterol problems that can increase the risk of developing heart disease, even if your routine cholesterol tests are normal. Learn more about the VAP test in our Comprehensive Cholesterol Guide.
- Coronary Artery Calcium Score (Coronary Calcium CT Scan): This test uses a CT scan to identify the location and extent of coronary artery disease by capturing detailed pictures of the inside of the heart and coronary arteries, determining how much calcified plaque (calcium) may be present. Learn more about this test here.
Myth #4: If you have high cholesterol numbers, you’re destined to take statin drugs for the rest of your life.
The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “Surely, if it be murder to administer poison to the dying, it must be far more criminal to give poison to the young life.” His statement is sadly true, especially when it comes to chemical poisons in the form of prescription drugs. Make no mistake – prescription medications can be life-saving and are absolutely necessary in critical situations. On the other hand, the use of many medications could be avoided if we Americans simply adopted healthy lifestyle changes. And by avoiding those drugs, we could also avoid the debilitating side effects that often come with them. Statins are no exception; the side effects include:
- Statins zap cells of energy and rob the body of CoQ10
- Statins cause fatigue and excessive tiredness
- Statins can cause dangerous rapid muscle breakdown
- Statins are linked to cognitive decline, memory problems and more; over 900 studies show statins are dangerous!
*Never stop or change medications without consulting with your personal physician or a qualified healthcare professional. If you have high cholesterol numbers or a history of heart disease, you are strongly encouraged to seek the advice of a medical professional before beginning a new diet or supplement program.
 UCLA Newsroom, January 11, 2009.
Originally published in 2013, this blog has been updated.