A doctor cuts through the conflicting science on cholesterol.
True
Cigna 2017

It’s easy to feel like there’s too much to keep track of when it comes to staying healthy.

Calories, fat, pounds, carbs, miles, steps — it's easy to get overwhelmed with conflicting science and false health fads. So the more complicated things, like cholesterol, often get overlooked.

Cholesterol plays a surprisingly large part in your overall health, and knowing and managing your cholesterol level (plus your other three health numbers — blood glucose, blood pressure, and body mass index) can help prevent health problems down the line. We chatted with Dr. Christina Stasiuk, senior medical director at Cigna, to learn more.


Image via iStock.

Here are 13 interesting facts about the role cholesterol plays in your body's health.

1. Cholesterol was first discovered in 1784, so scientists and doctors have been studying it for a long time.

There are two major sub-types of cholesterol: good (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) and bad (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, and triglycerides). Bad cholesterol is a fatty substance that can stick to the linings of your arteries and veins, whereas good cholesterol acts as a sort of broom that helps scrub away those LDL buildups in your body.

Image via iStock.

2. Your weight isn’t an indicator of your cholesterol level or overall health.

“There are thin people who are at higher risk of heart disease than people who may be overweight but who exercise, don’t smoke, and have normal blood pressure,” says Stasiuk. The only way to know your cholesterol levels for sure is through a blood test.

3. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs on its own.

The body makes both good and bad cholesterol, as they’re both needed to help perform a lot of the body's necessary functions. It's only when we consume too much LDL and triglycerides that it becomes “bad” by forming harmful buildup in our veins and arteries.

4. Clogged arteries look like they’re coated in butter.

If your body doesn’t have enough good cholesterol to scrub away sticky buildups, your arteries become clogged with yellow plaque-like fat. If you could slice open a clogged artery and look inside, it would look like it was filled with a thick layer of frozen butter. Uh ... yum?

5. You could end up with high cholesterol regardless of your healthy habits — thanks, genetics!

Familial hypercholesterolemia” is a genetic condition that causes naturally high levels of bad cholesterol. A heart-healthy lifestyle can help, but people with a predisposition for high cholesterol usually also need medication.

Lots of other genetic factors affect heart health too, so the only way to know for sure that your heart is healthy is to consult your doctor.

Image via iStock.

6. Your body can generate good cholesterol with regular exercise.

According to Stasiuk, there are really no foods or drugs that significantly increase good cholesterol levels. Regular exercise, however, can help the body create the good cholesterol it needs.

7. When it comes to eats, the richest foods are usually the worst for you.

"Bad cholesterol is typically animal-source cholesterol," says Stasiuk. "The solid stuff — the bacon fat, the fat around a steak. You're better off having liquid fats, like olive or canola oil or the oily fats you get in fish." Solid fats are the ones most likely to "stick," while liquid fats can be cleaned out of the body more easily.

Image via iStock.

8. Look out for the cholesterol double-whammy: the trans fatty acid.

Two things to look for on nutrition labels are saturated fat and trans fats, both of which raise your LDL levels. But trans fats also lower your HDL, pulling double-duty against your cholesterol health. And both saturated fat and trans fats show up in manufactured foods you might not expect because they help lengthen shelf life. "Think about it this way," says Stasiuk. "The amount of time that food lasts on the shelf is how long those lipids will be in your body." Ack!

9. One surprising source of high cholesterol? Coffee.

Don’t worry. Only when it’s unfiltered, like in Turkish or French press coffee, does your morning joe contain a harmful substance called cafestol, which raises bad cholesterol. If you drink drip coffee, you’re good to go. The filter catches cafestol before it hits your cup.

Photo by Jen/Flickr.

10. Certain foods can help pull bad cholesterol out of the bloodstream and send it out of the body (and it’s not just Cheerios).

Salmon, oatmeal, berries, avocados, beans, nuts, and spinach are all power workers when it comes to scrubbing and flushing out all those sticky cholesterol particles.

11. Women are at a generally lower risk for bad cholesterol levels and heart disease than men — that is, until menopause.

Estrogen helps balance good and bad cholesterol levels in women's bodies. Once menopause occurs and estrogen levels drop, women's cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease rise.

Image via iStock.

12. Cholesterol also plays a big role in keeping your brain healthy. In fact, about 25% of the cholesterol in your body is stored in your brain.

Cholesterol is a structural component of myelin, which is the protective substance that covers the nerve fibers in your brain. Strong myelin sheaths help the brain function, facilitating things like memory and quick thinking.

13. Laughter might be good for your heart.

Research suggests that laughter can trigger a variety of heart healthy reactions in the body. It decreases stress hormones, reduces artery inflammation, and increases good cholesterol. So if you can’t fit in a workout today, make sure you get in a laugh!

The most important part of maintaining good cholesterol health is to be aware of it and, where you can, make lifestyle choices that support it.

It's not about counting milligrams or calculating intake levels — it's about making lifestyle choices that benefit you and your body. "It all comes back to this: go, know, and take control," says Stasiuk. Get your blood tested during annual checkups with your doctor and take the time to make sure you understand your results. Then make small, progressive steps toward better heart health. Nothing drastic and no special secrets — just little changes toward treating your body right!

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

Yesterday I was perusing comments on an Upworthy article about Joe Biden comforting the son of a Parkland shooting victim and immediately had flashbacks to the lead-up of the 2016 election. In describing former vice President Biden, some commenters were using the words "criminal," "corrupt," and "pedophile—exactly the same words people used to describe Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I remember being baffled so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

But none of that was true.

It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

When it comes to the topic of race, we all have questions. And sometimes, it honestly can be embarrassing to ask perfectly well-intentioned questions lest someone accuse you of being ignorant, or worse, racist, for simply admitting you don't know the answer.

America has a complicated history with race. For as long as we've been a country, our culture, politics and commerce have been structured in a way to deny our nation's past crimes, minimize the structural and systemic racism that still exists and make the entire discussion one that most people would rather simply not have.

For example, have you ever wondered what's really behind the term Black Pride? Is it an uplifting phrase for the Black community or a divisive term? Most people instinctively put the term "White Pride" in a negative context. Is there such a thing as non-racist, racial pride for white people? And while we're at it, what about Asian people, Native Americans, and so on?

Yes, a lot of people raise these questions with bad intent. But if you've ever genuinely wanted an answer, either for yourself or so that you best know how to handle the question when talking to someone with racist views, writer/director Michael McWhorter put together a short, simple and irrefutable video clip explaining why "White Pride" isn't a real thing, why "Black Pride" is and all the little details in between.


Keep Reading Show less
True

*Upworthy may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through links on our site.

With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

Keep Reading Show less