Back-to-basics: Know Your Cholesterol
Do you know your ‘good’ cholesterol from your ‘bad’ cholesterol? One increases the risk of stroke and heart disease and the other lowers the risk. Some natural ways to control cholesterol include taking fish oils and plant sterols.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of fat that exists in the blood steam that plays an important role in maintaining cell membranes. In the right amounts, cholesterol is a normal and essential component required for good health. But if blood cholesterol levels are too high, it can increase your risk of developing health issues such as heart disease and stroke.
Cholesterol comes in two forms of proteins known as ‘lipoproteins‘: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). High levels of LDL-cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits in the artery walls that cause them to harden and narrow, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis consequently increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. This form of cholesterol is sometimes referred to as "bad" cholesterol. HDL-cholesterol however, is "good" cholesterol that helps remove excess cholesterol from the arteries and other parts of the body, reducing the risk of heart disease.
How do I know that I have high cholesterol?
It is not always possible to tell from physical signs that your cholesterol levels are too high. Instead, a simple blood test can be done to determine your cholesterol health. This is usually done together with other measurements of your cardiovascular health, such as blood pressure testing.
In some cases, someone with undetected or poorly managed high cholesterol levels may suffer from chest pain (angina) or leg pain during exercise due to the narrowing of the arteries. High cholesterol levels may also cause symptoms related to gallstones such as episodic abdominal and back pain, especially after eating fatty foods.
What causes high cholesterol?
- Cholesterol levels are determined by diet and the amount of cholesterol naturally produced by the body. High consumption of saturated fat, trans fats and high-cholesterol foods may make raise your cholesterol levels rise.
- Genetics also plays a role. Your genes will partly determine how much cholesterol you naturally produce. Familial hypercholesterolaemia is more likely to be present in people who experience a heart attack at an early age or who have a family member who had a heart attack at an early age.
- Being overweight contributes to increased LDL-cholesterol.
What are some natural therapies for high cholesterol?
- Plant sterols (also known as phytosterols) may help to reduce LDL-cholesterol levels and assist in improving the LDL:HDL ratio. They work by lowering cholesterol absorption and reabsorption. The National Heart Foundation of Australia recommends a daily dose of 2-3 grams of plant sterols per day. Choose a formula that also supplies a healthy dose of betacarotene, which may become depleted when taking plant sterols.
- Coenzyme Q10 helps maintain heart and artery health and inhibits the oxidation of LDL–cholesterol. Coenzyme Q10 is often taken with the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA from fish oil, which help decrease fat in the blood (triglycerides) in healthy people. Omega-3s also help to maintain the flexibility of the blood vessels, help maintain healthy heart rates and help maintain healthy blood pressure.
- Antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin C and vitamin E help reduce the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol. These can be taken with folic acid and the vitamins B6 and B12.
- If you’re overweight, achieving a healthy body weight may aid the management of healthy cholesterol levels.
Healthy living to manage high cholesterol
Having high cholesterol is an important indicator of your risk of developing heart disease. Thus, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is essential to prevent a serious health problem.
- Avoid animal fat in meat, full-fat dairy products and other fatty foods
- Increase the amount of steamed, raw or grilled fish in your diet
- Eat more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, oats and psyllium for healthful doses of soluble and insoluble fibre
- Include sources of monounsaturated fats (nuts, seeds and olive oil) in moderate amounts
- Include garlic and onions for their cholesterol-lowering properties
- Limit alcohol consumption to 1-2 standard drinks per day, and avoid binge drinking
- Quit smoking. Smoking significantly increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other health problems, and can exacerbate the negative effects of high cholesterol levels
- Engage in regular aerobic exercise, such as 30 minutes of brisk walking per day. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional before commencing an exercise programme
- If you are overweight, talk to your healthcare professional about ways to lose weight
Your cholesterol level is only one aspect of your cardiovascular health profile and should be addressed in conjunction with other risk factors. Talk to your healthcare professional for more information.
This article is published courtesy of Blackmores Singapore Pte Ltd.
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