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Cholesterol has been tarnished with a bad reputation and accused of being one of the major risk factors for heart disease and its resulting mortality. We are bombarded by advertisements for low-fat and low-cholesterol food and diets in the mainstream media – often taking every word as fact without doing our own research.
Instead of asking how much fat or cholesterol something has – the real question you should be asking is this – “Is cholesterol really a bad thing?” The answer is, ultimately, no.
Here are seven important facts you need to know about cholesterol:
#1: Cholesterol’s bad rep was propagated by selfish motivations instead of public welfare.
One of the earliest studies on cholesterol that started the trend of “cholesterol is bad for you” was published by scientist and doctor, Ancel Keys. He was one of the leading cardiologists in the United States and is known for his “Seven Countries” study on cholesterol, concluding that high total cholesterol was a damning risk factor for the development of heart disease. To an extent, this epidemiological link between cholesterol and heart disease is true but we have to question why choose data from only seven countries when he researched a total of 22? It’s because the conclusive data from the other 15 countries did not agree with his hypothesis, and was therefore not included in his publication. In fact, despite this “great discovery” and the resulting massive promotion of statin therapy, the statistics for obesity and diabetes are still through the roof, affecting millions of people around the world. 
#2: Cholesterol actually has an important role in the body and keeps it functioning at an optimal level.
Cholesterol is a naturally-occurring substance in the body that we also get from food. It helps the body process vitamin D and hormones, important substances that help maintain the normal balance (or homeostasis) in the body’s different systems. Without enough cholesterol in the body, we can experience hormonal imbalances and problems with immunity. 
A recent study on high-density lipoprotein (HDLs) revealed that lower HDL levels were actually directly linked to an increase risk in Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. According to the study, having low HDL levels contributed to greater amyloid deposition in the brain, a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. 
#3: Even though HDL is considered “good cholesterol” and LDL is considered bad, not all LDL’s are bad.
Cholesterol has been sorted into two main categories – HDLs or high-density lipoproteins and LDLs or low-density lipoproteins. This is because cholesterol can’t travel through the body without being attached to a protein. The former has been dubbed “good cholesterol” and the latter “bad cholesterol”. However, what the layperson doesn’t know is that cholesterol is much more complicated than that. LDLs are deemed bad for health because they cause inflammation to blood vessels, which in turn causes plaque deposition and vascular damage. However, LDLs come in different sizes and the ones we need to be wary of are small LDLs – small enough to squeeze themselves into arterial walls and cause damage. Most LDLs are made up of big particles that can’t do this. However, when you get your blood tested for cholesterol levels, all it can tell you is the total number of LDLs, not differentiate them by size. This is why your cholesterol blood test really doesn’t tell you much beyond the numbers – and (importantly) why it is worrying that this kind of test is being used to decide if you need to take statin medications or not. 
#4: Your major risk factor isn’t cholesterol alone.
Cholesterol isn’t alone when deciding if you’re at high risk for developing a heart or metabolic disorder. Go to the doctor and you get signed up for a bunch of medications after your blood test results come in. Because of this, we get the impression that all that matters is what the numbers say. However, heart disease is caused by an interplay between a multitude of risk factors – exercise, genetic predisposition, and lifestyle choices. A person who has an otherwise “healthy diet” is still at risk if they do not practice regular exercise and engage in unhealthy lifestyle activities like smoking. 
#5: Statins May Not Solve The Problem – and may even give you more to worry about.
Like previously mentioned, people with high cholesterol levels in the blood are often put through statin therapy to “keep the levels under control”. However, there are things about statin medication that you need to know when you agree to take them. 
You’re most likely never going to stop taking them: Statins are not a cure but “work” by stopping the body from making cholesterol. This is like plugging a leaking sink instead of changing the pipes. Once you stop taking them, your cholesterols are likely to go right back up. This kind of medication becomes a lifelong commitment without the right changes to your lifestyle.
Statins have side effects: Like every other man-made drug, statins also have side-effects like muscle and joint pain, headaches, and nausea. On a more serious level, prolonged statin therapy can even damage your liver, cause neural damage, and increase your risk for diabetes.
#6: If you are taking statins, remember to take CoQ10.
One of the most dangerous side effects of statin therapy is cellular damage – specifically damage to the cell’s powerhouse or the mitochondria. Statins decrease co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) in the body, a substance which helps the cell produce enough energy to function. When CoQ10 levels become depleted, the cells become weak, affecting the function of major organs like the heart – this is the reason why people with severe heart disease are often advised against taking statin therapy. 
#7: Focus instead on your HDL.
Instead of the popular low-fat and low-cholesterol way of life, focus on boosting your body’s HDL levels and maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. HDLs are considered “good” because they help remove LDLs from your bloodstream. By helping the body remove excess LDL through HDL, it will definitely decrease your risk for heart disease – a much better option than having a lifelong commitment to statin therapy. 
More In-Depth Reading: Mercola – 7 Factors to Consider if You’re Told Your Cholesterol Is Too High
 Andrade, J. (2009). Ancel Keys and the lipid hypothesis: From early breakthroughs to current management of dyslipidemia. http://www.bcmj.org/article/ancel-keys-and-lipid-hypothesis-early-breakthroughs-current-management-dyslipidemia
 National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. What Is Cholesterol? http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc
 Reed, B., et. al. (2014). Associations Between Serum Cholesterol Levels and Cerebral Amyloidosis. http://archneur.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1791528
 McNamara, J., Small, D., Li, Z. & Schaefer, E. (1996).Differences in LDL subspecies involve alterations in lipid composition and conformational changes in apolipoprotein B. http://www.jlr.org/content/37/9/1924.short
 American Heart Association. American Heart Association Recommendation for Physical Activity in Adults. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/American-Heart-Association-Recommendations-for-Physical-Activity-in-Adults_UCM_307976_Article.jsp
 American Heart Association. Losing Weight. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/WeightManagement/LosingWeight/Losing-Weight_UCM_307904_Article.jsp
 Mayo Clinic. Statins: Are these cholesterol-lowering drugs right for you? http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/statins/art-20045772
 Deichmann, R., Lavie, C. & Andrews, M. (2010). Coenzyme Q10 and Statin-Induced Mitochondrial Dysfunction. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3096178/
 Beckerman, J. (2014). HDL Cholesterol: The Good Cholesterol. http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/hdl-cholesterol-the-good-cholesterol
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