Cholesterol definitely has a bad reputation, and most would think that it was the body’s most dangerous substance and that it should be lowered at all costs. However, the reality is not that straight forward.
Cholesterol is a fatty acid that is essential to the functioning and the health of the body. It is needed to build and keep fluid in cellular membranes (this is important for communication), it also insulates nerves, produces vitamin D, hormones, and bile acid for digestion. So, if the body needs it why are approximately 12% of UK adults on medication to reduce their cholesterol?
The reason is too much ‘bad’ cholesterol can lead to a number of health-related problems, including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. What does that mean to the average person? Well, Cholesterol is carried around the bloodstream by fat/protein complexes called lipoproteins, which are divided into two types, LDL (short for low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (short for high-density lipoprotein). Because LDL carries cholesterol to the arteries and increases the risk of fatty deposits in the artery walls – LDL is called the ‘bad’ cholesterol, and because HDL carries cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver, HDL is called the ‘good’ cholesterol. Therefore, the higher a person’s HDL cholesterol compared with their LDL cholesterol, will determine if they need to control their cholesterol levels and bring it in line with the recommended healthy range of 4.9 to 5.4 mmol/l.
If your GP has advised you to lower your cholesterol, here is a brief look on how you can do that naturally through diet, exercise, lifestyle and supplements if needed.
A balanced diet is essential to maintain the amount of fats entering the body. As well as a sustained supply of vitamins, minerals, Omega Oils and antioxidants it is important to ensure that the right amount (and the right type) of fat is absorbed. Monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil, avocados and unsalted nuts, have recently been shown to reduce LDL whilst raising HDL.
There are many health and wellbeing benefits to exercise but remember you don’t need expensive gym memberships or equipment! Walking briskly for 30 minutes 3-5 times a week can help to get the body active and burn a few calories and running, swimming and cycling are all great for the heart too. However, any increase in activity is great so don’t fret if you can’t do 30-mins, just be as active as you can.
Tension, anxiety, anger and depression are all aspects of stress and trigger the release of chemicals within the body that constrict arteries, reduce blood flow and raise blood pressure. In times of stress, you are also less likely to want to exercise as the desire to ‘wind down’ with a brisk walk is replaced by the want to sit down and do nothing! Managing stress is essential and by maintaining a balanced diet as well as a regular exercise regime is not only effective for beating stress but also for a better peace of mind.
Found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, Omega 3 fatty acids may lower cholesterol by supporting your body with the ‘good’ fats needed for essential body maintenance.
Studies show that Vitamin E may help to prevent the deposits of LDL building up inside the arteries. It is also a natural antioxidant which can help to remove free radicals from the blood.
Allicin, found in garlic cloves, has been shown to help reduce LDL ‘bad’ levels and raise HDL ‘good’ levels.
Red rice extract (RYRE) is a traditional Chinese medicine that naturally contains several ingredients that may help control cholesterol levels. These include a number of monacolins, most importantly monacolin K. It also contains sterols, isoflavones, and monounsaturated fatty acids, good fats.
Vegetarians averagely have lower cholesterol than meat eaters, due to the fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans they consume. All of these contain a particular soluble fibre, pectin, which packs quite a cholesterol lowering punch! Not only this but it also helps to curb overeating by slowing the digestive process. High fibre foods include, wholegrain bread, bananas, raspberries, broccoli, chia seeds, lentils and parsnips.