Cholesterol myths and facts

Do you know your cholesterol numbers and what they mean? Learn information about cholesterol and facts and what you can do to keep your numbers in a healthy range.

To learn more about how you can manage your cholesterol, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (8762-484).

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Common Cholesterol Myths and Facts

Myth: Cholesterol is bad.

Fact: Without cholesterol, your body wouldn’t work properly. Cholesterol helps your body make hormones and vitamin D, and digest food. There are two types of blood cholesterol:

  • High density lipoprotein (HDL).
  • Low density lipoprotein (LDL).

What is HDL? High density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol, is known as “good” cholesterol, so a higher number is better. HDL helps remove some of the “bad” cholesterol from your blood.

What is LDL? Low density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol, is known as “bad” cholesterol, so a lower number is better. LDL is linked to atherosclerosis, caused by the buildup of a hard substance called plaque in your artery walls. Over time, atherosclerosis can narrow or block your blood vessels, leading to serious problems like heart attack and stroke.

RELATED: Know Your Cholesterol Basics

Myth: Cholesterol only comes from food.

Fact: Cholesterol comes from some foods that you eat, and it is produced naturally by your liver.

Animal products like meat, fish, egg yolks, and whole milk dairy contain dietary cholesterol.

Sometimes the body makes a higher amount of cholesterol than is needed. Eating foods high in cholesterol also can raise the amount of cholesterol in your blood.

To help manage cholesterol levels, it’s best to choose a balanced diet that includes plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean cuts of meat or poultry, fish, beans, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

Myth: Cholesterol can only be lowered by taking medicine.

Fact: Lifestyle changes play an important role in controlling cholesterol. If you’re diagnosed with high cholesterol, your doctor might recommend lifestyle changes before prescribing medicine. These changes might include:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet.
  • Getting regular physical activity.
  • Quitting smoking (smoking is also linked to atherosclerosis).

Be sure to follow the treatment plan your doctor recommends, including taking any prescribed medicine. Even when you’re taking a cholesterol-lowering drug, lifestyle changes help to lower your risk.

Myth: High cholesterol occurs only in older people

Fact: Anyone — including children — can have high cholesterol. Some families have a genetic disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia, which involves very high levels of LDL.

Since lifestyle choices can affect your cholesterol levels at any age, it’s important to make healthy choices.

Myth: Estrogen is good for cholesterol, so taking estrogen after menopause can help lower a woman’s risk for heart attack and stroke.

Fact: Estrogen is linked to higher HDL in premenopausal women, but the American Heart Association does not recommend hormone replacement therapy to help control cholesterol after menopause. Talk with your doctor about lifestyle choices and other treatments to help manage your cholesterol during and after menopause.

Now that you know your cholesterol myths and facts, keep an eye out for ways you can keep your cholesterol in check.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.