The key facts about cholesterol - and how you can control yours

 

High cholesterol significantly increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the future.

It does this by infiltrating the walls of arteries, creating stiff, disruptive plaques that can then rupture causing potentially life-threatening blood clots. A clot in the arteries supplying blood to the heart can lead to a heart attack. If a clot or rupture occurs in the brain it can cause a stroke.

Although there are medications available to help lower cholesterol, it can normally be controlled very effectively by making some prudent lifestyle changes.

If you have high cholesterol, you may want to consider some of the following lifestyle strategies to improve your cholesterol profile:

Physical activity
Regular exercise can have a dual effect on your cholesterol levels by reducing your TC level and increasing your HDL level. You don't have to exercise hard either, moderate-intensity activities such as brisk walking, active gardening and cycling can significantly improve your cholesterol profile.

A minimum of half an hour brisk activity, either continuously or in smaller intervals, on at least five days each week will be enough to produce results.

Diet
The three main areas of your diet to focus on for healthy cholesterol levels are fats, fibre and plant sterols.

Fats

All types of fat affect your cholesterol profile, some in a harmful way and others in a good way.

Saturated fats increase both your TC and LDL levels, so minimising these in your diet is the first step. Saturated fats are most commonly found in foods of animal origin, especially red meats and dairy products. They are often solid and visible at room temperature but also hidden in many foods.

Trans fats , like saturated fats, can significantly affect your cholesterol profile by raising your levels of both unhealthy LDL cholesterol and triglycerides as well as lowering your level of healthy HDL cholesterol. Trans fats are typically hidden in commercially baked and fried products (they have been virtually eliminated from margarines in the UK in recent years).

Unsaturated fats on the other hand will help to improve your cholesterol levels by reducing TC and LDL levels and also increasing your healthy HDL cholesterol level. Good sources of unsaturated fats include olive, sunflower and safflower oils, oily fish, olives, avocados, nuts and seeds.

Fibre
Foods high in dietary fibre, especially soluble fibre, are particularly good at reducing TC and LDL levels.

Great sources of soluble fibre include fruit, vegetables, brown bread, pasta and rice, oats, porridge, beans, pulses, lentils and any foods that include significant amounts of whole grains.

Plant sterols and stanols

Stanols and sterols are natural substances that are sometimes added to certain foods such as yoghurt, orange juice and margarines during production to help reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream during digestion.

Regular consumption of these products can be very effective at reducing your TC and LDL levels whilst maintaining your level of healthy HDL cholesterol.

Alcohol
Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with slightly increased HDL levels, but the benefits are not strong enough to recommend alcohol consumption as a way of managing your cholesterol levels if you don't already drink.

If you do drink, then make sure you stay well within the recommended limits. Drinking at higher levels can significantly worsen your cholesterol profile as well as increase your risk of other serious health conditions.

Smoking
The message here is simple - if you smoke, stop.

As well as being strongly associated with cancer and lung disease, cigarette smoke contains a chemical called acrolein that compromises the great work that your HDL cholesterol does in cleaning up your arteries.

Smoking also damages the interior surfaces of the arteries making it easier for cholesterol plaques to form.