High cholesterol is linked to a variety of serious health issues, including heart disease, kidney failure and stroke. So how can you ensure yours is at a healthy level, naturally?
Cholesterol, which is produced in the liver, has many essential functions. It’s necessary for the production of certain hormones and keeps the walls of your cells flexible. However, too much cholesterol can be dangerous to your health. Fortunately, there are many ways you can maintain healthy cholesterol levels by adopting a healthier lifestyle.
1. Weight management
Your diet affects how your body produces and absorbs cholesterol. Research has found that losing weight through a healthy diet improves the way your body absorbs cholesterol and helps limit the creation of new cholesterol, which lowers the risk of heart disease.
2. Plant sterols and stanols
Sterols and stanols are essentially plant cholesterol and your body absorbs them in a similar way to our own cholesterol, with one major difference – they don’t contribute to clogged arteries. Rather, they compete with the cholesterol in our bodies and are absorbed instead of it. Studies have found that consuming sterols and stanols can reduce harmful cholesterol by 15-20%. It’s uncertain, however, whether these ‘plant cholesterols’ can help reduce the risk of heart disease. They’re usually found in small doses in vegetable oils, or can be taken as a supplement.
3. Include monounsaturated fats in your diet
While a low-fat diet is often recommended for weight loss, studies have found that while it does reduce levels of harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which transports cholesterol and can cause deposits of it to build up in blood vessel walls, it also depletes the body’s resources of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which helps transport cholesterol away from vessel walls and protects against health problems. A diet high in monounsaturated fats has been shown to reduce LDL and maintain healthy HDL levels. Research also shows that a monounsaturated-rich diet also reduces oxidation, which can contribute to clogged arteries.
Good sources of monounsaturated fats include avocados, tree nuts like pecans, walnuts and cashews, and olives, as well as olive and canola oil.
4. Cut out trans fats
These are unsaturated fats that have been modified by a process called hydrogenation, which makes them more stable. Margarine, spreads, biscuits and pastries often contain partially hydrogenated oils, which gives them more texture than unsaturated liquid oils. Trans fats drive up LDL, the ‘bad’ cholesterol, and decrease healthy HDL. It’s estimated that trans fats are linked to about 8% of deaths from heart disease worldwide.
5. Up your intake of polyunsaturated fats
Polyunsaturated fats help reduce LDL and could lower the risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Research has also found that they help restore healthy blood glucose levels. The healthiest source of polyunsaturated fats is Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in fatty fish like salmon, herring, mackerel and deep-sea tuna, as well as in fish oil supplements. Other sources include tree nuts and seeds.
6. Increase your fibre intake
The ‘good’ bacteria in your gut (probiotics) require soluble fibre for nutrition and reduce harmful cholesterol. Studies found that consuming 3g of soluble fibre supplements every day for 12 weeks decreased LDL by 18%. Research also shows that regular fibre intake can reduce the risk of death from illness by almost 15% and can lengthen your lifespan. Good sources of fibre include oats, beans, peas, wholegrains, fruit, lentils and fibre supplements.
Fish oil, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol, increase life expectancy and lower the risk of heart disease. One study revealed that taking 4g of fish oil a day reduced the total amount of fat transported in the blood, while another showed that taking fish oil not only decreases harmful cholesterol, but increases healthy cholesterol.
Co-enzyme Q10 is a chemical that helps cells produce energy. It performs similarly to vitamins, although – because our bodies produce it naturally – we’re less likely to suffer from a deficiency of it. Increasing your supply of co-enzyme Q10 may be beneficial anyway, as it’s been found to reduce total cholesterol. It may also help prevent heart failure.
Psyllium is a particularly effective form of fibre which, according to research, can reduce cholesterol by about 10% in just four weeks.
8. Quit smoking
Smoking prevents your immune cells from returning cholesterol from the walls of blood vessels to the blood, so that it can be transported to the liver to be broken down. This can result in clogged arteries, increased levels of unhealthy cholesterol and heart disease. Although nicotine is detrimental to your health, this damage has been more closely
linked to tobacco tar. Fortunately, damage already done can be reversed by quitting smoking.
9. Cut down on alcohol
Surprisingly, drinking small amounts of alcohol has been found to increase healthy cholesterol (HDL). However, excessive alcohol causes damage to the liver, which can affect cholesterol production and absorption, as well as
increase the risk of heart disease and alcoholism. The recommended daily limit is two drinks daily for men and one for women.
10. Get moving
Among its many other health benefits, exercise (including low-intensity forms of it, like walking) has also been found to reduce harmful cholesterol levels and increase healthy cholesterol. Research shows that at least half an hour’s exercise five times a week is optimum for improving cholesterol and lowering the risk of heart disease.
FEATURE: CAITLIN GENG PHOTO: STOCK.ADOBE.COM
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis and treatment. Always consult your GP or a medical specialist for specific information regarding your health.