Life insurance companies know a surprising secret about cholesterol that most doctors never tell patients: When it comes to rating your risk for a fatal heart attack, the least important cholesterol number is your level of LDL (bad) cholesterol. In fact, life insurance actuaries don’t even look at LDL levels, because large studies show it’s the worst predictor of heart attack risk.
Instead, life insurance companies use a simple math formula to rate your heart attack risk: They divide your total cholesterol by the level of HDL (good) cholesterol.
“If the ratio is below three, and there’s no inflammation in your arteries, you’re practically bulletproof against heart attacks and strokes, even if your LDL is high,” reports Amy Doneen, MSN, ARNP, medical director of the Heart Attack & Stroke Prevention Center in Spokane, Washington.
Here’s a look at eight common cholesterol myths.
Myth: Cholesterol is inherently evil.
Fact: You couldn’t survive without cholesterol, since this waxy substance produced by the liver plays many essential roles in our body, from waterproofing cell membranes to helping produce vitamin D, bile acids that help you digest fat, and sex hormones, including testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone.
Cholesterol is ferried through your body by molecular “submarines” called lipoproteins, such as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).