Health care savvy Americans, confident in their cholesterol knowledge, may be in for a surprise. Knowing their cholesterol numbers, and where they should be, is not enough. To protect your heath, you need to recognize key myths surrounding cholesterol.

The top five cholesterol myths include:

Myth No. 1:

If my total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol are “normal,” I don’t need to worry about heart disease.

Wrong. Patients who get their total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol results back as “normal” may actually be at risk because standard cholesterol tests fail to measure the many cholesterol abnormalities that can lead to heart disease. In fact, almost half of all patients who have heart attacks have “normal” cholesterol, as measured by the standard cholesterol test. Your body is WAY more complex than this simple test reveals.

Myth No. 2:

If I exercise and eat healthy, I don’t need to worry about heart disease.

That’s another fallacy. Many people who are at risk or already suffer from heart disease exercise and eat right. That’s because genetics play a significant role in heart disease. In fact, a recent study of male twins, one lean and athletic and the other heavier and more sedentary, found that the brothers tended to show the same cholesterol response to high-fat and low-fat diets. So, exercise is critical but unfortunately your genetics and metabolic body type play a role.

Myth No. 3:

Women aren’t as susceptible to heart disease as men.

This myth couldn’t be further from the truth. Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women. In fact, nearly twice as many American women die of heart disease and stroke as from all forms of cancer combined, including breast cancer. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and women tend to have higher cholesterol than men starting in their 40s. This trend accelerates after menopause.

Myth No. 4:

The routine cholesterol test gives an accurate measure of my LDL cholesterol.

Wrong again. A little-known fact about the routine cholesterol test is that it estimates LDL cholesterol, rather than directly measuring it. This process can result in a significant underestimation of a patient’s LDL level, and may results in underestimating heart disease risk.

Myth No. 5:

If my good cholesterol (HDL) is high, I am protected against heart disease.

This may appear true, but there’s a catch: High-density lipoprotein (HDL) consists of subclasses (HDL2 and HDL3). While people with higher HDL2 are more protected against heart disease, those with more HDL3 may actually be at increased risk-even if they have normal total HDL.

So, testing can help along with routine physical evaluation by your doc. But get to know your body, look into your genetic history, and take a good look at your diet and lifestyle. It can save your life.

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