Toes Looking Weird? You Could Have High Cholesterol

Pain in your legs and unusual-looking toes could be a sign of dangerously high cholesterol levels.
Photo of a young woman doing a pedicure at home.
AleksandarNakic via Getty Images
Photo of a young woman doing a pedicure at home.

We can often easily dismiss unusual symptoms in our bodies (unless, like me, you’re an avid user of Dr Google!), but sometimes it’s important to listen to signs our bodies are giving us, as they could be signalling there’s something wrong.

High cholesterol is something six out of ten adults in England deal with, but many are completely unaware that they have it, as there are often no obvious symptoms. A blood test is usually needed to find out what your levels are.

The condition, which can be hereditary, is when you have too much of a fatty substance called cholesterol in your blood. According to the NHS, it’s mainly caused by lifestyle factors, like eating fatty food, not exercising enough, being overweight, smoking and drinking alcohol.

And though it’s often hard to tell if your levels are too high, there are some unusual telltale signs that signal something’s not quite right.

What are those signs? According to Dr Sami Firoozi, consultant cardiologist at the Harley Street Clinic, part of HCA Healthcare UK, brittle or slow-growing toenails can be a tell-tale sign of too high cholesterol.

This is because the high cholesterol levels in your blood can cause a disease known as PAD: peripheral aerial disease, which is when a fatty build-up in your arteries can limit blood flow to your legs.

Other symptoms of PAD can include “hair loss on your legs and feet, numbness or weakness in the legs and erectile dysfunction in men”, say the NHS.

How can you lower your cholesterol levels?

As a general guide, the NHS recommends keeping total cholesterol levels at 5mmol/L or less. In the UK, however, three out of five adults have total cholesterol levels above 5mmol/L, and the average cholesterol levels among Brits are 5.7mmol/L.

So, how can you make sure you’re not consuming too much cholesterol? Exercising regularly and cutting down on smoking and vaping are the main changes that can ease symptoms. Experts say it’s also essential to eat a healthy diet, lose weight if you’re overweight and not consume too much alcohol.

Foods that are reported to be highest in cholesterol are full-fat dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, animal fats such as butter, ghee and lard, and fatty and processed meat such as sausages and bacon, so it’s best to steer clear of or cut down on these.

What to eat instead? Cholesterol is only found in foods that come from animals, so you can try loading your plate with fruit, vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, beans, peas and lentils, and save the bacon sarnies for Sunday mornings only.