‘Cholesterol’ is a type of fat that is found in all the cells of our bodies. While 75 per cent of cholesterol in our bodies is attributed to the liver, cells and other organs, the other 25 per cent comes from the consumption of food from animal sources like meat, cheese, and eggs.
Too much cholesterol can be bad for us. But is cholesterol the villain we think it to be? In an attempt to separate fact from fiction, The Better India (TBI) spoke to Dr Udgeath Dhir, Director & Head Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram Adult CTVS (Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery) who explains the facts and calls out the myths.
1. All Cholesterol is Bad For You
“Not all cholesterol is bad,” begins Dr Dhir. It is important to understand that our body requires some amount of cholesterol.
“There are LDL and HDL cholesterol and the body requires the HDL cholesterol, which is also called the good cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is what one must control.”
• LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein), also referred to as “bad” cholesterol, raises your risk for heart disease and stroke.
• HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein), or “good” cholesterol, can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Note: The body requires everything in moderation. So while certain kinds of cholesterol can be harmful for the body, completely cutting it out will also do harm to the body.
2. I Can’t Have High Cholesterol. I Eat Very Little Oil
Debunking this myth, Dr Dhir says, “Our body requires 10 to 15 per cent of fat. While trans-fat and animal fat can be considered bad for our health, vegetable oil is not and the body needs that much fat for it to be able to function efficiently.”
Dr Dhir also mentions that many patients often say that they use olive oil and believe that it is a healthy option. Throwing light on the use of olive oil, Dr Dhir says, “The moment olive oil is used for cooking and is burnt or heated, the properties of olive oil is lost. Use olive oil to drizzle over your salads and then it works.”
Note: Be mindful of how much oil you are consuming. One way to check if we have used too much oil in our food is if the oil sticks to the plate. If it does, then you need to adjust the oil content the next time you cook.
3. Men Should Worry More About High Cholesterol
“Not at all,” says Dr Dhir. “Until women reach menopause, they are slightly protected from the ill-effects of elevated cholesterol levels. However, once they cross that age they are equally and at a higher risk than men.”
With age and women approaching menopause, it is normal for estrogen levels to drop. Since it is the estrogen levels in women that help them keep the cholesterol within the normal range, one must be careful when they approach perimenopause or menopause stage.
Thus, men above the age of 45 and women post menopause are at a higher risk of elevated cholesterol levels.
Note: Dr Dhir mentions that the mortality rate amongst elderly women is more as compared to elderly men. This only means that regular health check-ups are a must for both men and women to help catch the problem at its onset.
4. High Levels of Cholesterol Would Have Some Symptoms!
Unlike many other medical conditions that are usually accompanied with certain symptoms, a person with elevated cholesterol levels may not have show tell-tale signs of it until it is too late. “Patients typically come to us when they feel pain or tightness in the chest, which sometimes can also radiate into their left arm. This happens in 50 per cent of the cases we see.”
This means that more often than not patients remain unaware of their elevated cholesterol levels. However, some of the signs that one can watch out for include, breathlessness, feeling tired after doing regular activities, and bloating.
Note: Do not wait for the symptoms to aggravate before you seek medical help. Act sooner than later.
5. High Cholesterol? Me? But I Am Thin!
“Infact, I would say the opposite is true,” says Dr Dhir. “I am always more concerned about people who are ‘thin’ having high cholesterol when compared to those who weigh more.”
Dr Dhir also informs that it is a common norm to think that only obese patients have high levels of cholesterol and other allied health issues. “Since one does not see the markers in thin patients, sometimes it gets overlooked and that could be dangerous,” he adds.
Whether one is thin, overweight, or in perfect body weight measures, everyone should have their cholesterol checked regularly. While overweight people tend to have high cholesterol from eating too much fatty food, those who don’t gain weight easily need to be aware of how much saturated fat they eat.
Note: One should not be lax when it comes to getting regular check ups done.
6. I am Young! The Elderly Have to Worry about High Cholesterol
“I am increasingly seeing younger patients come to me with coronary ailments, which have a link to high levels of cholesterol in the body. While earlier someone in their mid to late 60’s would come in for surgery, now I see patients in their mid 40’s coming in.”
Perhaps with the increasing consumption of fatty and refined foods and the sedentary lifestyle that many of us lead, heart conditions are manifesting in younger people.
Note: Having a higher cholesterol level makes one vulnerable to heart ailments over time. Constant monitoring and mindful eating is the key.
Some lifestyle Changes that Dr Dhir Feels Could Help
• Get a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise each day.
• Include whole grains and unprocessed food as much as possible into your diet.
• Consume fresh fruits and vegetables everyday.
• Avoid food with high trans fats and saturated fats.
• Do not exceed the recommended daily allowance of 40-50g of total fat for adults
• It would be beneficial to include nuts, flaxseed, sunflower seeds in the diet to increase HDL.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)