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Cholesterol myths vs facts

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cholesterol myths vs facts

Myth buster: Only elderly people suffer with high cholesterol

It’s true that as we move through the decades towards retirement age, the more likely we are to have raised total cholesterol. Data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed that diseases of the circulatory system accounted for almost a quarter of deaths in those aged between 35 – 75 years. In addition, 7% of deaths those aged 15-34 were due to diseases of the circulatory system. [1] Bottom line: a large number of young people also have cholesterol levels that are too high and so are putting their health at risk.

Myth buster: High cholesterol is mainly a problem for men

High cholesterol doesn’t just affect men – women are also at risk and in some cases, even more so than men! In fact, figures show that slightly more young women aged 25 to 34 years have raised total cholesterol than men of the same age. This is the same for adults aged above 55 years. For example, 23% of women aged 55 to 64 years have high cholesterol compared to 20% of men in the same age category. (2) The reality: women need to be just as vigilant at getting their cholesterol levels monitored, especially after the menopause.

Source: Healthy Ireland Summary Report 2019

Myth buster: Only overweight and unfit people have high cholesterol

This is simply not true. While being overweight and inactive tend to go hand in hand with high cholesterol, being a healthy weight and exercising regularly aren’t an automatic green light for healthy levels of cholesterol. The truth is even slim, fit people can have high cholesterol. That’s why it’s so important to get your cholesterol checked.

Myth buster: Butter is a natural fat and better for your cholesterol than spread

Just because butter comes straight from nature doesn’t mean it’s healthier for you. Calorie wise – butter, sunflower, rapeseed or olive oil spreads are fairy similar, but it’s the type of fat that’s different.

Spreads tend to contain unsaturated fat, which can help to keep cholesterol levels under control, or even actively lower it when it contains plant stanols – the active ingredient in Benecol, whereas saturated fat found in butter can increase cholesterol levels.

Indeed a 10g serving of butter (one of those little packs that you get in cafes and restaurants) contains around 5g of saturated fat – that’s a quarter of our daily recommended limit of saturated fat. This is clearly a case of nature doesn’t always know best!

Myth buster: Taking omega-3 supplements will help prevent a heart attack

There is insufficient evidence that supplements of omega-3 fats will help to prevent cardiovascular disease or heart attacks [3].

Getting the omega-3 fats we need from food, such as oily fish, means we also benefit from the wide range of nutrients that oily fish supply such as protein, phosphorus, selenium, and vitamins B3, B6, B12 and D. And of course, fish is a tasty addition to our diet.

Myth buster: Drinking red wine is good for the heart

It’s commonly thought red wine may help to reduce the risk of heart disease thanks to the antioxidants it contains. But antioxidants are also found in many other foods such as fruit and veg.

Better still, the antioxidants in fruit and veg are naturally packaged with beneficial fibre and other vitamins and minerals – and don’t come with the negative effects of alcohol.

Meanwhile, research funded by the British Heart Foundation in 2018 found the risks of consuming alcohol on diseases of the heart and circulation outweigh any benefits [4].

The truth is, drinking red wine – or any other alcohol – is not a great strategy for keeping our heart healthy and is more likely to do harm than good.

References

[1] Central Services Office (CSO). 2019. Available online: https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-vsys/vitalstatisticsyearlysummary2019/

[2] Accessed: August 2020. Healthy Ireland Summary Report 2019. Available online: https://assets.gov.ie/41141/e5d6fea3a59a4720b081893e11fe299e.pdf
Accessed: August 2020.

3. NICE (2016) Clinical guideline [CG181] Cardiovascular disease: risk assessment and reduction, including lipid modification. Published 18 July 2014; updated 27 September 2016.

4. British Heart Foundation. Is red wine good for your heart? Available at https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/medical/ask-the-experts/red-wine-and-your-heart Accessed May 2020.

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