This month is National Cholesterol Month, which is a month devoted to raise awareness of the health implications of high cholesterol levels and raising funds to help Heart UK, the cholesterol charity, to continue to provide support, guidance and education services to healthcare professionals and the public with concerns about cholesterol.
Having high cholesterol has been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Thus keeping your cholesterol in check is imperative and implementing healthy practices, like eating a healthy balanced diet and being physically active can help prevent a high cholesterol level.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance mainly made by the liver but can be found in some foods like eggs, meat, milk and margarine. Cholesterol is essential for the maintenance of normal bodily function. It is transported in the body by lipoproteins and there are two main types: high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) and low-density lipoprotein (LDLs).
HDLs transports cholesterol away from cells and back to the liver to be broken down or excreted out the body as a waste product.
LDLs transports cholesterol to the cells but if there is too much cholesterol for the cells to use it can cause build up in artery walls resulting in a condition called artheroscheloriss that can lead to heart attack.
• Normal total cholesterol level for most adults =5 mmol/L or less
• Normal LDL level for most adults =be 3 mmol/L or less
• Normal HDL level for most adults =1 mmol/L or more.
What causes high cholesterol?
There are many factors that can contribute to high cholesterol levels, such as:
• Regular consumption of foods high in saturated fat - Eating excess foods high in saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood. Most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat.
Foods high in saturated fat include:
• Fatty red meat
• butter, ghee and lard
• hard cheeses
• cakes and biscuits
• foods containing coconut or palm oil
• Lack of physical activity - Not being active enough or not being active at all can increase levels of LDLs (bad cholesterol). Further to this, lack of physical activity can also contribute to being overweight and obese which increases chances of having high LDLs and low levels of HDLs
• Smoking - Acrolein which is found in cigarettes halts HDLs carrying cholesterol from fatty deposits to the liver, which in turns, leads to atherosclerosis.
• Regular alcohol consumption - Frequent drinking of alcohol in large amounts can advance your cholesterol levels.
• Underlying medical conditions - Some people who have type 2 diabetes, hypertension, liver disease, kidney disease, hypothyroidism often have raised cholesterol levels. The treatment and management of underlying medical conditions can help to reduce cholesterol. If you have these medical conditions, please see your doctor to check your cholesterol.
• Family medical history - Having a relative who has had a cholesterol-related condition may increase risk of having high cholesterol.
What can you do to lower cholesterol levels?
There are different healthy lifestyle habits we can adopt to lower our cholesterol levels. These include:
• Opting for foods containing unsaturated fats: Consuming foods that contain unsaturated fat rather than saturated fat can lower cholesterol levels. Such foods include oily fish like salmon, fresh tuna and mackerel, nuts, seeds, avocadoes and vegetable oils and spreads.
• Eating more fibre-containing foods:Some fibre-rich foods can help lower your cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of developing certain heart conditions. It is recommended that we should aim for at least 30g of fibre daily.
Great sources of fibre include fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
• Regular physical activity: Living an active lifestyle can help to reduce cholesterol levels. There are different things we can do to be more active daily and stay active, such as walking around your local park, jogging and cycling! Being active everyday will not only reduce risk of certain health conditions but can also improve your overall mood, helping you to feel good and look good too!
1. 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as cycling or brisk walking every week.
2. Strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)
• Quit smoking:Cholesterol levels can be lowered by if you stop smoking - you can get help to stop smoking by speaking to your GP, joining your local stop smoking service and online support.
• Watch alcohol intake : Watching your alcohol intake can also help your cholesterol level by following the recommended guidelines. The recommended guidelines for both men and women is no more than 14 units in any week, that's about 6 pints of 4% larger, or 6 medium glasses of wine, and no more than 8 units for men or 6 units for women in any one day. If you drink more than the recommended amount, there are online resources and services available to help you reduce your alcohol intake.
• Cholesterol-lowering medication: There are medicines like statins that can help lower your cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol, you should speak to your GP first about how can lower it. GPs prescribe statins to those who need it and give further information on how to make healthier lifestyle changes.
Important: If you think you may have high cholesterol level please see a doctor or any health care professional before considering any medications.