Cholesterol is an essential part of everyone’s daily life as it affects our body in several ways. However, it is often ignored or not talked about. It’s affected by things that we do daily, like eating food and the types of physical activities we engage in. Although cholesterol is essential for the growth and development of our body, excess of it could bring severe repercussions. For example, high cholesterol can lead to issues like heart diseases, stroke, type-2 diabetes, peripheral artery diseases etc. Therefore, high cholesterol is one of the most common reasons for various health-related problems.
Knowing your cholesterol levels has become quite significant with the onset of modern technologies and better treatments in the pharmaceutical range. You can only take corrective action towards an issue if knowledge about the problem is available. The remedial measures for lowering cholesterol issues range from changing nutritional habits, physical activities and regular check-ups, among other ways discussed below.
Why Lower Your Cholesterol Levels?
Your body needs some cholesterol to function properly. However, an excess of it can stick to your arteries’ walls and narrow or block them. As a result, it can put you at risk of coronary artery disease and other cardiovascular diseases.
Lowering cholesterol levels is the need of the hour, as millions of people are affected by cholesterol issues worldwide. The myth is that cholesterol is present in food, when actually majority of it is present in our own blood- these are categorised into good (HDL), bad (LDL), very bad (VLDL) and extremely bad (Triglycerides).
Lipoproteins, a type of protein in your blood, carry cholesterol through your body. One of the types is LDL, which is sometimes called the “bad” cholesterol. A high LDL level results in building up cholesterol in your arteries. Another type, HDL, is sometimes called the “good” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver, which then removes the cholesterol from your body.
Another myth surrounding cholesterol is that foods labelled as cholesterol-free are full of nutrition. Unfortunately, it is also a myth because these packaged products contain excess sugar, salt or fat worsening their nutrient composition.
High Cholesterol: Causes
High cholesterol refers to the state where a person’s low-density lipoprotein (LDL), commonly known as bad cholesterol, increases beyond the average level. It’s majorly caused by low physical activity levels in people throughout their day to day routine. That is one of the reasons why such issues are majorly present in people belonging to the age group of 40 and above. However, high cholesterol can pass from one generation to another, making children prone. Hence, the average cholesterol levels vary from person to person due to differences in genes, gender, weight, and other related aspects.
Apart from an inactive lifestyle, nutritional habits are also one of the significant causes of cholesterol issues. In this era of fast foods, the trans fat intake of our generation has sky-rocketed, which has resulted in high amounts of LDL in the body. Such unhealthy dietary cholesterol intake and a rise in LDL cholesterol levels diminish the quantity of HDL cholesterol in our bodies, causing health issues.
These factors contribute to a lower rate of metabolism and blockage in arteries, which decreases the efficiency of our blood vessels and may further lead to severe issues.
Ways to Lower Cholesterol
There is no quick way to lower your cholesterol immediately, but you can observe significant changes in the long run through persistent efforts. The most significant change you should introduce in your lifestyle is dietary habits. The food you consume has a vital role in your cholesterol management. Besides that, an active lifestyle also positively affects cholesterol levels in your body. As a result, you can keep your cholesterol levels in range and lower your risk of heart disease. The objective should be to raise your HDL levels and lower LDL levels.
So let us look at some ways to lower cholesterol levels naturally.
Your liver produces most of the required cholesterol in your body. The remaining cholesterol comes from the foods you eta (e.g. organ meats, full fat dairy). Hence, the types of food you eat become a significant factor in managing cholesterol levels in your body.
As you are aware, with the current ready-to-eat format of foods that we get today, LDL cholesterol levels in our bodies are rising. That is one of the most significant reasons for several cholesterol-related health issues. Hence, we need to consume foods rich in HDL to offset the imbalance caused by the LDL we acquire through our diet. Thus keeping track of the nutritional value of foods help determine our cholesterol situations. Below are some foods that can help us achieve an optimum balance.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are referred to as “good fats”. These fats are beneficial to your heart, cholesterol, and general health. They help prevent abnormal heart rhythms and reduce triglycerides. As a result, they prevent heart diseases and fight inflammation.
A study proves the role of a diet high in healthy fats in enhancing your HDL levels. In addition, increasing your consumption of these healthy fats may help you feel fuller after a meal, reducing your appetite and assisting in weight loss. You can find such fats in dairy products like cheese and various nuts like almonds and cashews. In addition, you can also get these fats from olive oil, canola oil, avocado, nut butter etc.
Besides the two above-mentioned fats, the Omega 3’s commonly found in fatty fish is also a good source of nutrition to increase HDL levels and reduce LDL cholesterol levels. A study shows that consumption of Improved fat qualities reduced total and LDL cholesterol 10% within eight weeks of consumption. You can get these fats from seafood and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herrings etc.
Unsaturated fats modified by the process of hydrogenation are called trans-fats. That is because hydrogenation prevents these fats from fully saturating. Although it improves the texture of the food and increases the shelf life of vegetable oils, our bodies handle these fats differently and are not healthy. In addition, research shows that trans-fats increases LDL levels and reduce beneficial HDL levels. Hence, you should refrain from consuming trans-fats. You will primarily find these fats in baked foods like pastries, fried fast foods, some pizzas, non-dairy coffee creamer etc.
Add Soluble Fibre to Your Diet
The benefits of fibres in your diet are not a secret. Besides improving your digestive health, fibres also offer various benefits. Soluble fibre is a group of different plant compounds that humans cannot digest. These fibres dissolve in water. However, the beneficial bacteria in your intestines can digest soluble fibre. These bacteria are known as probiotics. Research suggests that probiotics help reduce LDL cholesterol levels in your body.
Fibre also offers various other benefits. For example, a study suggests that consumption of soluble and insoluble fibre reduces death risk in people above 17 by nearly 15%.
The best sources of dietary soluble fibre are oat cereals, beans, lentils, Brussels sprouts, fruits and flaxseeds. Furthermore, the recommended fruits and berries include blueberries, avocados, raspberries, and dates.
HDL takes back the excess cholesterol from your blood to the liver, and the liver extracts it out of your body. Water is essential for your excretory system and hence plays an integral role in supporting good cholesterol to do its job. Consequently, people with high cholesterol should consume 4-5 litres of water every day. It will help reduce inflammation, increase blood flow, and lower blood vessel stress.
Your lifestyle has a significant influence on your cholesterol balance. Therefore, you must be aware of factors that impact good cholesterol levels over time. Since preventive methods have advanced substantially, you should be mindful of your body’s state. That will allow you to avoid serious consequences. A healthy and active lifestyle that includes moderate physical exercise and a good diet positively affects your HDL levels.
Simultaneously, indulging in behaviours such as alcoholism and smoking can also decrease HDL levels. Hence, you should avoid them. Keeping yourself fit and maintaining a healthy weight can also help your body produce more good cholesterol. Let us look at some lifestyle changes that will help you lower and balance your cholesterol levels.
If one can incorporate a few minutes of exercise into their daily routine, it can significantly impact their metabolism and cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, in the modern-day scenario, people aged 40 and above resort towards a lifestyle that includes a lot of sitting. It is unhealthy for various reasons and results in many health issues, including high cholesterol levels. Hence, you should start your day with light stretching exercises like the cobra stretch, knee-to-chest, child’s pose, side stretch, etc.
Several studies have shown the effect of various exercise forms on regulating your cholesterol levels. For example, a study demonstrates the beneficial role of aerobic exercise, resistance training and combined exercise modalities on cholesterol and the lipid profile. Furthermore, exercise and an active lifestyle benefits heart health in general and prevents cardiovascular diseases.
Did you know that the excess weight in your body is directly proportional to extra cholesterol levels? Indeed, obesity leads to high cholesterol levels in your body. Hence, it is essential to maintain healthy body weight. However, studies prove that cutting down on those extra kilos from your body weight can help you reduce your cholesterol levels. In addition, weight loss also helps decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. So, get started on your weight loss journey today and witness the changes in your overall health.
Many times, cholesterol issues come around without any warning as its symptoms are usually not particularly noticeable. Hence regular monitoring of cholesterol levels becomes a necessity. But unfortunately, in most cases, high cholesterol issues are reported when it is already too late for corrective actions, which could have brought fruitful results.
Although we have come a long way in technology and medicinal procedures, the phrase “precaution is better than cure” still holds value. You can track your cholesterol issues in their earlier stages by regularly monitoring. That will help you take corrective measures, and you can treat the condition by making dietary and lifestyle changes.
You should check cholesterol levels in children aged five and above every five years. So do it throughout their childhood. At the same time, monitor the cholesterol levels in healthy adults every 2-3 years. However, if you have a family history of cholesterol issues, practise monitoring the cholesterol levels more frequently. Furthermore, for more specific cases, it’s highly recommended to consult a doctor to discuss the frequency of cholesterol testing.
Avoid Fast Foods, Alcohol and Smoking
Besides avoiding an unhealthy lifestyle and following a balanced diet, you should avoid smoking and alcohol consumption. In addition, you should also avoid eating unhealthy foods like fast foods and processed foods.
Smoking increases your risk of heart diseases, including cholesterol rise. That is primarily because smoking prevents your body from returning cholesterol from blood vessels to the liver. As per research, it is due to the nicotine in cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Cigarettes contain acrolein, a toxic chemical compound that our bloodstreams absorb through the lungs. It affects HDL transportation in the body, thereby increasing LDL levels. It leads to heart disease development.
The American Heart Association (AHA) does not endorse using any form of alcohol for improving your heart health. Although the organisation says that moderate alcohol consumption can increase small amounts of HDL cholesterol, it is not a healthy way to do so. Instead, individuals should focus on exercising as it is a better way to boost HDL levels. In addition, studies also show that heavy alcohol consumption can damage the heart severely even before the damage symptoms appear.
Therefore, it is best to stay away from smoking and alcohol consumption.
Other Important Tips
The most significant point to consider is that a lifestyle that involves sitting for long hours causes an imbalance in your cholesterol levels. Hence, you should indulge in some form of exercise. Even a 10-minute walk can create a difference.
You should also avoid eating fast and processed food from outside. If possible, it should be limited to only twice a week if required. Also, switching to healthier cooking oils may aid in cholesterol issues as most of the LDL cholesterol that our body acquires is through the oil in our food. That also makes fried food an evil candidate to incorporate into your diet.
Currently, millions of individuals throughout the world are suffering from cholesterol problems. Unfortunately, most of them are unaware of the gravity of their issue or even that they have a problem. It’s past time that we became aware of potentially dangerous circumstances that might lead to serious, if not fatal, consequences in the long run.
To avoid cholesterol and other problems, you must adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes good eating and moderate physical exercise. Healthcare organisations are taking initiatives to promote testing, and we must also make efforts to be more aware and informative about such common healthcare issues. Shifting from the laid-back, comfort-driven lifestyle is necessary to prevent future cholesterol-related issues and lead a healthy, hearty life.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Are cholesterol levels affected by fasting?
A. Yes, fasting affects cholesterol levels in your body by raising lipid serum, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol. Furthermore, it raises apolipoprotein B levels in nonobese, healthy people. However, effects might vary for people suffering from obesity or other related issues.
Q. Are nuts good to lower cholesterol?
A. Almonds and other tree nuts can help lower cholesterol levels. Several studies indicate that a walnut-enriched diet can reduce the risk of cardiac problems in patients who have had a heart attack in the past. In addition, the consumption of nuts like cashews and almonds positively affect cholesterol levels. However, you should consume them in moderation.
Q. Does reduced blood cholesterol lower blood pressure too?
A. Yes, reduced blood cholesterol also helps lower blood pressure. Buildup of cholesterol in the arteries can reduce the space for blood flow, in turn increasing pressure of contractions. Thus, if blood cholesterol levels are low it will help in keeping blood pressure also low.
Q. Does cholesterol lower with exercise?
A. Yes, exercise and a healthy lifestyle play a vital role in lowering cholesterol levels in your body. Moderate physical exercise can increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol or “good” cholesterol.
Q. What vitamins lower cholesterol?
A. Niacin, or vitamin B3, enhance high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol while decreasing triglycerides. You can get these vitamins through your diet. However, you should always consult a doctor before taking any supplement.
Q. What should you avoid eating with high cholesterol?
A. You should avoid consuming any form of trans fats from baked foods, heavy cream laden dishes, deep fried foods and fatty meats have high cholesterol. That is because they are the primary sources that lead to an increase in LDL levels of cholesterol. Also, you must limit a high intake of fatty meats to see better results for lower cholesterol.
Q. Will drinking water lower cholesterol?
A. Yes, having plenty of water go through your body is healthy in all scenarios. It also helps lower your cholesterol levels because it allows the circulatory system to work efficiently. In addition, it helps your liver excrete excess cholesterol from your body.
Q. Can high cholesterol be reversed?
A. You can moderate and reduce your cholesterol levels by adopting a healthy lifestyle. However, a complete reversal should not be the short term goal as it is near impossible. Long term results may fall in favour of the same.