Say the word ‘cholesterol’ to somebody and you immediately invoke images of heart attacks and people’s arteries clogging up as they risk death through heart disease. Cholesterol has taken on such a bad and simple image that you might suppose it was simply a kind of poison, that it should be avoided at all costs, and that eating any would only result in death. Yet the truth, as with most things, is infinitely more complex and subtle.
Yes many people suffer from high levels of cholesterol, which increases their chances of heart disease, but is this due to dietary cholesterol intake? What other uses might our bodies have for cholesterol, and why does our body naturally produce it? In this post we’re going to take a look at three surprising facts about this waxy fatty substance, and show you that there’s much more to it than simple heart disease.
High Cholesterol Can be Unavoidable
The first fact is that some people can’t help but have high cholesterol. While most of us think we can control our levels by watching what we eat, the truth is that our genetics can cause a few people to have ridiculously high levels no matter what they do. This condition is known as familial hypercholesterolemia, and affects about 1 in 500 people. This condition can cause people to have heart attacks early in life, and there’s not much they can do to control it outside of strong medication.
Cholesterol and Obesity Don’t Go Hand in Hand
Second, everybody thinks that our nation’s cholesterol levels are climbing. That the obesity epidemic that we are facing is no doubt in part fueled by a rise in high cholesterol, which makes the whole situation more grim. Instead, overall cholesterol levels are dropping. Statistics show that the number of people with high levels between the ages of 20 to 74 has halved since the sixties. The reason is because modern awareness as to the dangers of cholesterol have greatly changed our dietary habits, while the folks in the 50’s and 60’s had no idea that cholesterol could be a problem and thus ate irresponsibly.
High Cholesterol is Easily Spotted
Third, high levels of cholesterol are not only detectable by doctors, but by the naked eye if you know what to look for. Most people thing that cholesterol only occurs within the body, but the truth is that it can manifest on the skin as well in reddish-yellow bumps and patches. These can appear on the joints, eyelids, and hands, and are called xanthomas. They usually tend to occur in older people, or those with diabetes or other health problems. Their appearance is a clear warning that you need to go see a doctor and get checked out!