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Is cholesterol really bad for your heart?

For the longest time cholesterol has been labelled as the bad guy for your heart. Any mention of the word and you know that it is going to do some or the other damage to your heart. But doctors say that this is a misconception that we have been harbouring for too long about cholesterol. Cholesterol also is needed for the body and our well-being. So, we asked Dr Haresh Mehta, Interventional Cardiologist, Hinduja Healthcare Surgical, Khar to tell us if cholesterol is really bad for the heart. Here is what he has to say,

'Is cholesterol actually a cause of heart disease? Does lowering cholesterol help? Are Statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) helpful or harmful? The social media and internet are full of contradictory data, which adds to the confusion.

'A fact about cholesterol is that it is an essential part of every cell in the body. Only about one-third of total cholesterol is needed through our diet whereas almost two-thirds of the cholesterol is produced by the body (in the liver). High levels of 'LDL cholesterol' (Bad cholesterol) are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, whereas a high level of 'HDL cholesterol' (Good cholesterol) is protective.

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'Research shows that the amount and type of dietary fat consumed can affect blood cholesterol levels. Dietary fat especially saturated and trans fats may raise blood levels of total and LDL cholesterol. Recall that high total blood cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol levels increase the risk of heart disease, while lower levels reduce risk. Higher levels of HDL cholesterol help lower the risk for heart disease.

'In 1984, 'National Institutes of Health (USA)' stated: It has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that lowering elevated LDL cholesterol, will reduce the risk of heart attacks caused by coronary heart disease.

'However, there are some groups who dispute the cholesterol lipid hypothesis. In 2015, a paper stated that 92 percent of people with a high cholesterol level lived longer. This caused a lot of buzz on the social media.

'To reduce the confusion about cholesterol, an extensive medical review was done and published in 2016 in the Lancet (one of the most respected medical journal). It showed that the numbers of people who avoid heart attacks and strokes by taking statin therapy are very much more than the numbers who have side-effects with it. In addition, most of the side effects can be reversed with no residual effects by stopping the statin. But, the effects of a heart attack or stroke are irreversible and devastating. So, the first step to lower cholesterol is a good diet, regular walk (or aerobic exercise) and a healthy lifestyle.'

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