Egg yolks are okay, cutting back on fat may have no health benefits and there are even suggestions that high cholesterol may not be associated with increased cardiovascular risk! Dr Parul R Sheth makes sense of the cholesterol debate, taking into account the latest research and expert views.
Parth, 65, thought he was healthy until he had a cholesterol screening. The results were both startling and confusing. “My cholesterol was high. I am not overweight. I am active, eating right and in good shape. It’s in my genes, the doctor said, since my father died of heart disease at the age of 62.” Parth knew he had to make some changes in his lifestyle, and he did, with the help of medication, diet tweaking and exercise.
The confusion is not Parth’s alone. In recent years, research has brought out newer concepts and understanding about cholesterol. Medical experts are reconsidering the earlier adverse relationship between dietary cholesterol and heart disease.
Recent research suggests that high levels of cholesterol coming from the diet are no longer associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Modified dietary norms for maintaining cholesterol levels in the blood are being put forward. Earlier, people believed a low-fat diet could lower cholesterol levels. But new data shows that cutting back on fat or maintaining a low-fat diet has no health benefits.
So is it necessary to adopt a specified diet to reduce your cholesterol levels? Is it good to take cholesterol medication? Here’s a lowdown on myths and facts about cholesterol:
Be cholesterol savvy
Cholesterol is a lipid, a fat produced in the liver, which protects nerve cells in the brain. All steroid hormones – cortisol, testosterone and estrogen – are made from cholesterol. Vitamin D too is synthesised from cholesterol. In spite of the good things it does, it has a bad reputation because high levels of cholesterol are known to cause heart disease, blood pressure and diabetes.
According to Dr Amit Vora, consultant cardiologist at Glenmark Cardiac Centre and Sir Kikabhai Hospital, Mumbai, cholesterol is essential for the body since it forms an important coating for certain organs like the brain and the nervous system. The lipid is transported in the blood by low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL or bad cholesterol carries cholesterol from the liver to the cells. Too much of it can form deposits in artery walls, thus limiting blood flow.
Plaque deposits can eventually cause cardiovascular disease.
HDL is the good cholesterol, involved in reverse cholesterol transport. It scavenges excess cholesterol from the cells and carries it to the liver for disposal. HDL improves blood circulation, prevents oxidative damage to the heart and decreases chances of heart attacks. A slightly raised cholesterol level is not much to worry about, but if the level is high along with high blood pressure and factors like family history and age, the risk multiplies. Also, if you’ve had a heart attack, stroke or angina (chest pain on exertion), diabetes, or genetically high cholesterol levels, you need to control blood pressure and cholesterol levels. “Cholesterol in the normal range is desirable, especially with LDL and HDL fractions in the correct range,” says Dr Vora.