Myths and Facts About Cholesterol

Even if you think you know everything there is to know about cholesterol, there may be a few more surprises in store. Check out these common myths about high cholesterol; find out who’s most likely to have it, what types of food can cause it, and why—sometimes—cholesterol isn’t a bad word.

As a nation, we could certainly use some slimming down, but when it comes to cholesterol levels we are solidly middle-of-the-road.

According to 2005 World Health Organization statistics, American men rank 83rd in the world in average total cholesterol, and American women rank 81st. In both cases, the average number is 197 mg/dL, just below the Borderline-High Risk category. In Colombia the average cholesterol among men is a dangerous 244, while the women in Israel, Libya, Norway, and Uruguay are locked in a four-way tie at 232.

It’s true that eggs have a lot of dietary cholesterol—upwards of 200 mg, which is more than two-thirds of the American Heart Association’s recommended limit of 300 mg a day. But dietary cholesterol isn’t nearly as dangerous as was once thought. Only some of the cholesterol in food ends up as cholesterol in your bloodstream, and if your dietary cholesterol intake rises, your body compensates by producing less cholesterol of its own.

While you don’t want to overdo it, eating an egg or two a few times a week isn’t dangerous. In fact, eggs are an excellent source of protein and contain unsaturated fat, a so-called good fat.

Research has shown that atherosclerosis—the narrowing of the arteries that leads to heart attacks—can start as early as age eight. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on kids and cholesterol recommended that children who are overweight, have hypertension, or have a family history of heart disease have their cholesterol tested as young as two.

Children with high cholesterol should be on a diet that restricts saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, according to the guidelines. Fiber supplements and more exercise are also recommended.