For decades, Americans have been encouraged to limit the amount of cholesterol they consume in foods such as eggs to help manage the level of cholesterol in their blood for optimal cardiovascular health. But public health advisors currently reviewing dietary guidelines are beginning to back off these warnings saying indulging in high cholesterol foods has little bearing on our own cholesterol levels.
It turns out that cholesterol in food is broken down in the body and either discarded or used to make bile acids, which are needed in food digestion. Cholesterol is also necessary for hormones and cell membrane growth.
In contrast, the cholesterol in blood comes from the body itself. People with high cholesterol have a malfunctioning mechanism for cleaning up excess cholesterol in the blood, such as genes and dietary factors besides cholesterol consumption. Those dietary factors include the consumption of trans fats such as those in processed foods and saturated fats such as those in certain animal products.
In a nutshell, cholesterol in the diet has little bearing on the amount of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream. What people need to focus on rather than the amount of cholesterol in the food they eat is following a healthy diet void of trans fats and limiting saturated fats. And while this may be helpful to some people, others are left facing the fact that high cholesterol may be genetic and nothing they can control through diet and exercise.
The challenge to conventional wisdom comes just as controversial new heart health guidelines have emerged encouraging wider use of cholesterol-lowering statin medications to help prevent cardiovascular events including heart attacks and strokes. But statins, such as the widely prescribed Lipitor, come with side effects that can be difficult for many people to tolerate.
Statin side effects include muscle injury and liver damage, which can be life threatening. The drugs can also increase blood sugar levels and put users at risk for type 2 diabetes. Women are at even greater risk than men for developing this serious side effect.