1. Myth 1: Cholesterol Is Bad For You
Most of us have heard only the negative associations with cholesterol and heart disease. We have been told that cholesterol is the blame for heart disease and we should avoid high cholesterol containing foods like eggs and butter.
Often overlooked is the essential role cholesterol plays in building health.
Cholesterol is a basic component of cell function, the production of hormones (including estrogen and testosterone), Vitamin D, and bile, which aids in fat digestion (bile salts, also aids in the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and k.) Cholesterol lubricates the skin and is necessary part of the brain and nervous system.
Low levels of cholesterol have been linked to poor immunity, depression, as well as, cancer.
Fat and water do not mix well, so our body shuttles fat around attached to a protein. Cholesterol is also referred to as a lipoprotein (lipoprotein = fat+protein).
Cholesterol is simply the means in which, our body transports fat through the blood stream.
Our liver produces about 75% of the total blood cholesterol, the other 25% comes from dietary sources (cholesterol is only found in animal products).
2. Myth 2: DIETARY Cholesterol Is The Sole Cause Of Heart Disease
Though there are studies indicating an increased risk of heart disease correlated with high blood cholesterol levels, studies pinning the total blame of heat disease on dietary cholesterol have been inconsistent at best.
More consistently, studies indicate that heart disease is a multivariate phenomenon: cholesterol intake, inactivity, smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of fiber, body fat levels, saturated fat intake, trans-fats intake, and occupation (stress levels) all playing a role.
Recently, research has implicated the aforementioned lifestyle factors contribute to a state of chronic inflammation, which may be the real culprit behind a host of diseases including diseases of the heart.
A test has been developed for assessing this chronic inflammatory state by measuring a component of the blood called C-reactive protein. C-reactive protein is a marker for inflammation levels in our body. When C-reactive protein levels are high there is more likely damage to the heart and arteries, and an increase risk of heart attack.
Quote taken from the American Heart Association website:
“Scientific studies have found that the higher the hs-CRP levels, the higher the risk of having a heart attack. In fact, the risk for heart attack in people in the upper third of hs-CRP levels has been determined to be twice that of those whose hs-CRP level is in the lower third.”
Here is how it works. Lifestyle factors contribute to chronic inflammation, which damages the artery walls. Cells multiply to repair the area. Similar to a scab, scar tissue is accumulated within the damaged area (plaque), ultimately arteries become restricted and blood flow is impaired to the heart.
Here is the twist. At lease, some doctors believe high blood cholesterol levels are apart of the body healing process and not the actual cause of artery/heart damage.
Since cholesterol is a necessary component of all cellular tissue, the belief is our body continues to produce more cholesterol to repair damaged tissue. Hence, the blood cholesterol remains high as result of chronic inflammation and the natural repair process.
How’s that for a spin? Cholesterol may be the good guy in a bad situation.
Inflammation is also believed to be the culprit behind a host of other diseases. The medical community is now searching for anti-inflammatory drugs to help reduce incidence of chronic inflammation and heart disease.
Why Cholesterol get a bad rap
When you visit your doctor, which lifestyle factor can he or she control with the least amount of effort?
Of all the lifestyle factors correlated with heart disease: cholesterol levels, inactivity, smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of fiber, body fat level, saturated fat intake, trans-fat intake, and occupation (stress levels) cholesterol is the only factor your doctor can control with medication.
Exercise does not come in a bottle yet.
Thus, cholesterol gets somewhat assumed to be the sole cause of heart disease.
Body Fat Levels
Once of the biggest oversights in the medical community is not including body fat testing with health assessments. In all my years in body fat testing, almost every person over 25% body fat for a male and 32% for a female, has tested positive for, at least, one of the following health conditions: high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, or coronary heart disease.
25% for a male and 32% for a female is considered obese based on the standards set by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
Body Fat Analysis Vs. BMI
Often, the people I test are not aware of their body fat level, nor what is considered obese. It is possible to not necessarily “look obese,” but fall into the obese range nonetheless (skinny fat).
When you visit your doctor, they are not assessing your body fat level or using the ACSM standard.
Doctors use a standard assessment called the BMI or Body Mass Index. The BMI is based on your weight and height, but does not consider muscle mass.
For instance, a 5’ 10” 200 pound man would be considered overweight base on BMI. There is a big difference however, between a 5’ 10” athletes who is all muscle, and someone who is the same height and weight, but a “couch potato.”
There is a large margin for error using the BMI standard.
MYTH 3: High Cholesterol Is Usually Genetic
I have had this conversation (borderline argument) with clients many times, who come to me to learn weight lifting but are not yet committed to changing their dietary habits.
These clients usually exercise moderately, and consider themselves “healthy eaters.” Based on their doctor’s BMI assessment, they believe themselves to be a perhaps a few pounds overweight, but definitely not obese.
They believe that their higher than average cholesterol levels are genetic, which is usually supported by comments made by their doctor.
The doctor tells them, “you appear to eat well and exercise, and your weight (based on BMI) is okay.”
The problem is their body fat level is not okay based on the body fat standard set forth by the ACSM. The client’s body fat level is always in the 25-32% range.
Moreover, if a male is 30% body fat and loses a few pounds, and now is 25% body fat, they are still considered obese! This situation lends to the “see you have lost a few pounds and your cholesterol levels are still considered high, so it’s genetics” belief system.
The truth is that until one gets out of the 25%-32% body fat range, their cholesterol levels will most likely remain high.
And, what do you think contributes to high body fat levels?
Well, it is inactivity, smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of fiber, saturated fat intake, trans-fats, and occupation. We can also add total calorie intake to this list.
I do not like blanket statements, so I cannot say there are absolutely no cases where high cholesterol is genetic. I, however, have not tested anyone with a low body fat level and high cholesterol.
What I believe to be genetic is body types (also, families sometimes have similar lifestyle habits and food choices). If your parents are overweight, you run the risk of having a strong chance of being overweight also.
This simply means you may have to work harder to keep out of the 25-32% body fat range. No, this does not mean that you are doomed and destined for high cholesterol and heart disease based on your genes!
Some people have heart disease without high cholesterol and some have high cholesterol without heart disease. The bottom line is to know your body fat level and assess all the aforementioned lifestyle factors before assuming your cholesterol levels are genetic.
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