You probably know that high LDL ("bad") cholesterol puts you at risk
for heart disease. But you might not know that the prevalence of high
LDL in the world adults actually fell during the last decade. One reason is
greater use of cholesterol-lowering medication by those who need it.
There's still plenty of room for improvement, however. Currently, about
one in six adults has high cholesterol.
2. There's a Connection With Prostate Cancer:
Getting your cholesterol under control can reduce your risk of having a
heart attack or needing heart bypass surgery. But there may be other,
lesser-known benefits as well. In one study, men with lower cholesterol
were less likely to have a deadly form of prostate cancer than those
whose cholesterol was high.
3. Cholesterol Affects the Brain:
Cholesterol is crucial for healthy brain function, including learning
and memory. Yet you can have too much of a good thing. In a recent
study, middle-aged volunteers worked on memory tasks while undergoing
brain imaging. Those with high cholesterol showed less activity in three
of the brain's memory centers.
4. There's a Link With Alzheimer's Disease:
There may also be a connection between cholesterol and Alzheimer's disease. In a study in Neurology,
researchers looked at brain tissue from autopsies. They found that high
cholesterol was associated with amyloid plaques—abnormal deposits of
protein between brain cells. Such plaques are typical of Alzheimer's.
5. Cholesterol Rises After Menopause:
In women before menopause, estrogen helps keep cholesterol in check.
But within a year of a woman's last menstrual period, there is often a
sharp rise in total and LDL cholesterol. This may help explain why the
risk of having a heart attack increases dramatically in women after age
6. You Should Start Testing Early:
The chance of having high cholesterol rises as you get older. But
problems start young in some people. All adults ages 20 and older should
have a cholesterol blood test at least once every five years. Testing
is also recommended for some children, including those who are obese or
have a strong family history of heart disease.
7. Trans and Saturated Fat Matter, Too:
Eating a heart-smart diet is important. And that means more than simply
choosing foods with little or no cholesterol. Such foods may still
contain saturated or trans fat. These fats actually have the biggest
dietary effect on blood cholesterol, so be sure to check for them in the
Nutrition Facts on a food's label.
8. Low Cholesterol Is No Guarantee:
Cholesterol numbers count. Yet they don't tell the whole story. In
fact, a large national study found that nearly half of patients
hospitalized for a heart attack had LDL levels in the optimal range. So
listen to your cholesterol—but also heed your other risk factors, such
as triglycerides and blood pressure.