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illustration of a blood vessel clogged by cholesterol buildup
illustration of a blood vessel clogged by cholesterol buildup
illustration of a blood vessel clogged by cholesterol buildup

Cholesterol: 5 Truths to Know

About 71 million Americans have high cholesterol. A large part of preventing and treating the condition is understanding it. Here are five important cholesterol facts to know for better health.

Cholesterol is a natural component in everyone’s blood.

Cooked fish in a skillet

It’s only when you have too much of this fatty substance that it’s considered a major risk factor for heart attack, heart disease and stroke. 

In fact, there are actually several different types of cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol) lends a good, protective effect to your body. So-called bad cholesterol is known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

Visit the Calculating Your Cholesterol article for more information.

Not all cholesterol numbers are equal.

Your total cholesterol reading minus your HDL cholesterol yields a number known as non-HDL cholesterol. “It’s the best cholesterol number to know for predicting cardiovascular risk,” says Johns Hopkins cardiologist Michael Blaha, M.D., M.P.H.

Research Shows

Not All LDL Cholesterol Is Alike

Nearly one in four people found to have LDL cholesterol in the “desirable” level through the traditional calculation method actually may have needed more aggressive treatment, according to a study at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine published in 2013 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The newer way of calculating LDL cholesterol, which the same researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Associationlater that year, provides a more individual and accurate assessment of risks. 

Certain fats can actually help keep cholesterol numbers low.

These include monounsaturated fats (such as nuts and olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (such as fish and canola oil).

Statin benefits far outpace any risks.

A Johns Hopkins review of more than 20 years of studies on more than 150,000 subjects showed that the drugs’ risks (such as memory problems and diabetes) are very low, while their potential cardiovascular benefit is very high.

Cholesterol numbers can affect more than heart health.

In a Johns Hopkins study of more than 5,000 men, those whose cholesterol numbers were normal or low slashed their risk of aggressive prostate cancer by nearly 60 percent compared with men who had high cholesterol.

Learn More About Cholesterol

Get further insights from Johns Hopkins experts on high cholesterol prevention and treatment.

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