You might associate cholesterol with a super-sized, fat-laden burger and greasy French fries but, actually, cholesterol is essential in the body. “If you don’t have cholesterol, basically your cells wouldn’t function.” says Dr. Peter Clifton, Director of the CSIRO’s Nutrition Clinic.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is produced primarily in our liver. It moves through the bloodstream to where it’s needed to make cell membranes, hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and adrenaline, Vitamin D and bile acids (which assist in the digestion of fat).
Cholesterol is carried in particles called lipoproteins. There are two major types of these carriers: LDL, (low-density lipoproteins) and HDL (high-density lipoproteins), ‘Low density lipoprotein cholesterol is the “bad” type of cholesterol as it is deposited on the inside of our blood vessels,’ says Barbara Eden, the Heart Foundation’s national nutrition
HDL – the good cholesterol – sweeps the cholesterol from the bloodstream and takes it back to the liver, recuding the likelihood of heart attack.
What causes High Cholesterol?
The trouble starts when too much cholesterol is circulating in the blood. The main cholesterol-raising culprits are saturated and trans fats, which ‘increase the level of total blood cholesterol and in particular the LDL or bad cholesterol. This increases our risk of heart disease.
Too much blood cholesterol can cause fatty deposits to build up inside your blood vessels, making it harder for the blood flow and can eventually cause heart disease or stroke. This is called atherosclerosis. Other risk factors for atherosclerosis are smoking, being overweight and high blood pressure.
There are no warning signs for high cholesterol and a regular blood test is advisable for anyone with a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure or for people who are obese.
For those over the age of 45, we recommend that they have their blood fat levels tested on a regular basis as part of their general health management. If your reading is above 6.5 mmol/L, your risk of heart disease is about four times greater than of a person with a cholesterol level of 4mmol/L.
There is also a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia, which affects around one person in 500, where the cholesterol isn’t properly cleared by the liver and builds up in the blood. These people are at a high risk of arterial disease, heart attack and stroke and will need medication to control their cholesterol levels.
Turning to Medication
For those who don’t respond to diet and lifestyle measures, medication is vital in bringing cholesterol levels down. Around 95% of all patients with cholesterol above 6mmol/L, who haven’t responded to lifestyle changes may need medication called statins.
HOW TO LOWER YOUR CHOLESTEROL
The good news is that lowering cholesterol levels by just 10% can reduce your risk of heart disease by 25% or more. Everyone, before they go on medication, has to try diet for the first three weeks. And in the three weeks, if you make big changes, you can certainly see quite a reduction in cholesterol.
By taking the following steps, you’ll notice immediate results.
REDUCE TRANS AND SATURATED FATS.
Found in: fatty meats, full-fat dairy, palm and coconut oil, deep fried foods, butter, biscuits and pastries.
The more saturated fat that you eat, the higher your cholesterol will go. It’s the highest dietary influence on our blood cholesterol levels – much greater than how much cholesterol we eat. The same goes for trans fats.
Choose lean cuts of meat, switching from full-fat to low-fat dairy and when buying convenience foods, opting for ones with the Heart Foundation Tick as they have a limit on their saturated fat content. The good news is, you can still enjoy eggs – but in moderation.
INCREASE POLYUNSATURATED AND MONOUNSATURATED FATS.
Found in: Polyunsaturated margarine spreads, sunflower, safflower and soybean oils, some seeds, pine nuts, walnuts, pecan and brazil nuts.
Found in: Monounsaturated margarine spreads, olive and canola oils, macadamia, hazelnuts, pecan, cashew nuts and avocado.
Don’t make the mistake of going on a no-fat diet, as you won’t be doing your heart any favours. Replacing foods containing saturated fats with food containing the healthier polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats helps to lower blood cholesterol.
INCREASE SOLUBLE FIBRE
Found in: Fruit and vegetables, oat bran and barley bran, psyllium husk.
Apart from having a host of heart-friendly benefits, fruits, vegetables and low-GI carbs like oats and barley have an essential cholesterol-lowering ingredient: soluble fibre.
You need to eat around 10g of soluble fibre a day, so make sure eat your two fruit, five vegies and a big bowl of oats in the morning. ‘Oats contain a special type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which has been shown in studies to reduce cholesterol.
Get moving! While there is no direct link between exercise and cholesterol, it has other heart-friendly benefits like controlling high blood pressure and reducing body weight. The Heart Foundation recommends 30 minutes of moderated physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week.
Here’s all for now and always live life to its fullest
Rowell Bulan M.D.
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