At normal levels, cholesterol is essential for the body to function. A natural, fatty substance made by the liver, it keeps our cell membranes flexible and mobile. Cholesterol even plays a part in hormone production and how the body absorbs health-giving Vitamin D.
Importantly, cholesterol is not soluble in water. Instead, it attaches to proteins to form two types of lipoprotein: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). HDL helps to eliminate cholesterol from the body, so is often termed good cholesterol, whereas LDL is referred to as bad cholesterol because it builds up as deposits on artery walls and can cause arteriosclerosis (or atherosclerosis). Initially, this circulatory disease may limit blood supply to the legs and cause pain when walking. Also, it may lead to a mini-stroke (or TIA, i.e. transient ischaemic attack), a stroke or even a full heart attack. Angina is another possibility; here, the narrower arteries that feed the heart can cause chest pain.
There are many factors which can lead to high cholesterol levels, some of which are genetic but most are lifestyle-related and can be controlled to a certain extent.
Excess body weight and smoking are common risk factors. As well as reducing tobacco consumption, it is important to exercise regularly (under medical advice, when appropriate) to maintain bodyweight within an optimum range.
Animal fats contain triglycerides, which are high in cholesterol. Foods to avoid or consume only in moderation include red meat (especially liver) and shellfish. It is best to limit dairy products such as cheese and butter. Pastries, butter, and egg yolks contain elevated levels of cholesterol too, as noted in red warning labels on nutrition advice sheets.
Foods that come from plant products – seeds or nuts, for instance – contain phytosterols, thought to lower the body’s absorption of cholesterol. Other top foods to reduce the all-important count include porridge, tofu, and oatmeal, bread made with 50 percent oat flour or oat bran, as well as apples, pears, prunes and kidney beans.
Avocados (sliced with salads, not fried) and extra-virgin olive oil (in moderate amounts!) are good for the body. In fact, salads are ideal because plant foods such as lettuce and cucumber are cholesterol-free.
Doctors usually prescribe statin treatment for patients with high cholesterol levels, though any associated medical conditions or other related risk factors (e.g. increased blood pressure) may also need monitoring and a prescription.
According to findings presented at a European cardiologists’ 2013 conference in Lisbon, Portugal, patients with high cholesterol often have relatively low levels of Coenzyme Q10, a naturally occurring substance, and widely available food supplement. Professor Svend Mortensen, a renowned heart specialist from Copenhagen University Hospital, said further trials would see whether taking CoQ10 together with statins could significantly improve outcomes for cardiac patients. Additionally, CoQ10 supplements were thought to reduce muscle discomfort, an occasional side effect of conventional statin treatment.
Lack of exercise can increase blood cholesterol levels. For this reason, around thirty minutes of daily physical activity is advisable. Have a look at my post on how to fit exercise into your busy mum life here for more on that.
Age, gender, and genetic factors also play a part; your healthcare professional will be able to advise.
Finally, it is important to have one’s blood pressure checked regularly. This is especially important if you have a family history of hypertension, as regular monitoring can help prevent the risk of many related health issues.
Are you concerned about high cholesterol or perhaps you have a history of high cholesterol in your family? Do share in a comment below.
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