Cholesterol can seem to be a confusing issue. Nutrition experts have long speculated that cholesterol can be good for you, and it is not always bad. Cholesterol serves critical functions and is essential for your body. However, the classification of cholesterol is what makes the difference. There is the good cholesterol (HDL) that your body needs to function, and there is bad cholesterol (LDL) that can lead to several health issues if in excess. Too much of anything becomes problematic; similarly, too much bad cholesterol (LDL) is a concern. Most people having cholesterol issues have a high amount of bad cholesterol (LDL). Similarly, the total cholesterol (HDL + LDL) levels should also remain under control because an excess can lead to health issues.
As per the government reports, nearly 94 million U.S. adults aged 20 or older have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL. At the same time, recent studies have reported that 25–30% of urban and 15–20% of rural Indians have high cholesterol. Global data suggests that high cholesterol levels are becoming major health with these growing numbers. However, it is not difficult to manage high cholesterol if you are conscious and consistent in eating healthy.
This article will help you understand the basics of this condition and provide you with simple tips on checking your cholesterol levels for a healthy heart and body.
The biggest myth or confusion among people is that cholesterol is present in our foods. However, the truth is that the liver makes the most cholesterol in our bodies. In addition, we get it from animal products like milk, eggs, meat etc. Cholesterol is a fatty, wax-like substance that circulates in the bloodstream. It is responsible for the secretion of hormones, maintenance of nerve cells, and digestion processes. Hypercholesterolaemia, a word that may feel like a mouthful, is a condition of the human body wherein the cholesterol levels in the blood are higher than usual.
There are two forms of cholesterol. The first one is the High- Density Lipoprotein (HDL), which is called the ‘good’ cholesterol. The second type, the Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL), is most commonly known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol.
The lifestyle choices like an unbalanced, fatty diet, lack of exercise, alcohol consumption, habits such as smoking and certain health conditions can alter the levels of both these types of cholesterol, leading to Hypercholesterolaemia.
Cholesterol is produced in the liver and has several essential functions. Unlike fat, it does not dissolve in water, but it relies on molecules called lipoproteins. These lipoproteins are responsible for the movement of fat, fat-soluble vitamins and cholesterol within the body. Good cholesterol or HDL carries cholesterol away from the walls of the blood vessels. In contrast, bad cholesterol or LDL causes cholesterol deposits in the walls of blood vessels and eventually leads to severe health conditions.
According to a study and laboratory analysis, cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). As per medical science, normal cholesterol levels are less than 200mg of cholesterol per deciliter of blood. The raised levels are 240 mg of cholesterol per deciliter of blood and above. This constant rise in cholesterol levels is what leads to the condition of Hypercholesterolaemia.
A fact that is equally surprising and scary about the condition is that it does not have prominent symptoms. Still, it can lead to severe consequences like heart attack, strokes and other cardiovascular conditions in due course. This condition is prevalent and often requires lab testing by a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment. Although it is more common in men, the number of women going through it is also increasing.
Like several other diseases, hypercholesterolaemia does have a strong link to your family history and genetics. It may last from a few months to several years, depending on the response one gives to its onset. However, at this stage, tips and tentative solutions to treat the condition come in at this stage.
Tips to Manage High Cholesterol
There are three necessary components to treatment
Self-care Nutrition Medication
Selfcare involves looking after your eating habits, physical activities etc. Whereas nutrition focuses on foods that you should eat and avoid. Medication is the last resort. However, even when on medication, the first two are equally important.
So, here are some of the essential tips to manage high cholesterol without medications.
1. Follow a Heart-Friendly Diet
High cholesterol management requires one to look after heart health. The cholesterol content in the bloodstream directly affects the heart and its blood-pumping ability. Diet plays an integral role in heart health. Ideally, a heart-friendly diet would be low in fat, sugar, sodium, and carbohydrates and have a low consumption rate of packaged foods and red meat portions.
Reduce the Consumption of Saturated Fats
Saturated fat consumption can raise blood LDL cholesterol levels. A high blood level of LDL cholesterol increases your heart disease and stroke risk. Saturated fats can be found in animal-based meals, including beef, pork, chicken, full-fat dairy products, eggs, and tropical oils like coconut and palm.
They solidify at room temperature; they are usually referred to as “solid fats.” Saturated fats raise your risk of heart disease by interfering with your cholesterol levels. High-saturated-fat diets can be replaced with healthier alternatives to minimise the risk of heart disease.
To reduce consumption of saturated fats, you might need to avoid or intake certain foods in lesser quantities:
Pork belly Beef, beef fat Poultry along with skinLard and butterPalm oilIce creamSome baked and fried stuff, mainly processed ones
Reduce Your Salt Intake
Our bodies require a certain amount of salt to keep healthy, yet nearly everyone consumes significantly more than they need. Salt boosts blood pressure, which, like excessive cholesterol, leads to heart attacks and strokes, and reducing salt intake can help lower it.
High blood pressure strains the heart and can result in heart and blood vessel illnesses, such as heart attacks and strokes. These issues are more prevalent if you have high cholesterol and high blood pressure at the same time. The walls of the arteries are damaged by high blood pressure. Cholesterol gathers in these damaged areas, blocking the arteries and narrowing them.
Adults should consume no more than 6 grams of salt each day, while children should consume much less. Most people consume far more than 6g of sugar. It’s difficult to tell how much you’re eating because it’s buried in the items we buy, such as bread, breakfast cereals, pasta sauces, cheese, and processed meat. In fact, three-quarters of the salt we consume comes from meals we buy rather than meals made at home.
Use the below-mentioned tips to help you consume less than 6g of salt/day:
Check the labels of foods while shopping.Reduce the use of salty flavourings like processed flavouring agents, pre-mixed herbs, salad dressings, ketchup, soya sauce, peri-peri flavouring, etc. Compare products and choose options with limited to no added salt.Avoid foods high in salt like packed soup powders, salted nuts, snacks, meats preserved in brine, etc.Cook your meals and reduce the frequency of takeaways Avoid keeping table salt while diningCut down on all processed foods Give some time for your taste buds to adjust
Eat Fibre-Rich Foods
Study says we should all consume at least 25 grammes of dietary fibre every day, according to the American Heart Association and the Food and Drug Administration. But what exactly is it, how do we know how much we’re consuming, and where did that number come from in the first place? Dietary fibre, commonly known as roughage, is a healthy carbohydrate found in plant diets (not supplements).
There are two types: soluble and insoluble, and both are highly beneficial to our health. Soluble fibre forms a thick gel in our intestines, which slows digestion (preventing blood sugar spikes) and traps lipids, preventing them from being absorbed entirely (which lowers cholesterol levels).
Soluble fibre is present in:
Oats, bran and barleyBeans like kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils A variety of fruits like apples, tomato, lichee, plums, grapes, etc.Vegetables like turnips, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, etc.Flax seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds
Insoluble fibre aids in the softening and regularising of our stools, which is always a good thing!
Whole grains, Berries, unsweetened coconut, avocados, Most vegetables are good sources of insoluble fibre, including celery, asparagus, mushrooms, cabbage, eggplant and kale
Fibre, both soluble and insoluble, makes us feel full, allowing us to eat less. Let us now see what from each of the five food categories would be healthy to consume:
1. Fruits and vegetables
A wide variety of options are available in this category. Vegetables (including green leafy vegetables) and fruits can be fresh from the market, canned or frozen as far as they have not been preserved with excessive salt, sugar or oil.
Onion Pepper Lettuce Okra Mushroom Spinach Peas Potato Pumpkin Carrot Tomato Brussel Sprouts GarlicBroccoli Pear Peach Papaya Kiwi Melon OrangePineapple Banana Plum Strawberry Grapefruit
2. Milk and Dairy
Low fat or fat-free options are more apt for people with high cholesterol than regular dairy options to help maintain normal levels
Mozzarella cheeseLow-fat yoghurt Skim milk Paneer Tofu Cottage cheese
3. Grains and Cereals
They are essential carbohydrates in our meals. However, we must be equally careful with their intake. Whole grains and cereals are the best for consumption.
Oats Rye Whole wheat Cornmeal Bulgur Buckwheat BarleyBrown rice
Meat options, preferably fish and white meat, should have had fat portions removed. Small amounts of red meat are acceptable.
Egg Salmon Finfish Sardine Chicken Turkey Duck Lamb Veal
5. Oils and Fats
Fats are not all bad, instead are a crucial element of food. The only thing to remember is to eat more unsaturated fats like nuts and seeds than saturated ones.
2. Move More. Sit Less.
Exercise and movement can significantly reduce high cholesterol. An active lifestyle that includes at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity helps regulate cholesterol levels. These 30 minutes of movement should preferably be continuous; however, can also be divided into mini active segments throughout the day too.. One can engage in any sport of choice, an activity like dancing, a brisk walk, a light jog, yoga, swimming, cycling, or any physical activity that suits one. This way, you will be enjoying yourself unawares that you are exercising, in turn relieving your stress and anxiety.
As per a study, at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity on most days of the week helps reduce the chances of having a chronic illness like heart issues in adulthood. Around 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise helps in body weight regulation. The time, frequency, and intensity of movement ensure calorie burn with practice. Yet another essential factor that most people ignore is the requirement of taking breaks and rest days during the week.
“Exercise is an excellent place to start if you want to lower bad cholesterol,” says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. “However, it doesn’t end there. Combining exercise with a healthier diet and lifestyle has the most impact.”
Learn about the best workouts for lowering cholesterol and how to get started.
Jogging or taking brisk walks
There’s no need to go all out on the treadmill. If you’re not used to running, are overweight, or have joint problems, it may cause more harm than benefits your health.
Begin with a short stroll around the block, then progress to a longer walk, and finally a slow jog. You’ll lower your cholesterol, and you’ll also drop your blood pressure.
Physical Activity (1 hour each) Calories burned acc. to 130lbs (weight)Calories burned acc. to 155lbs (weight)Calories burned acc. to 190lbs(weight) Walk, slow pace148176216Walk, moderate pace207246302Walk, brisk pace 236281345
As a kid, you probably didn’t have to worry about your cholesterol levels because you were being active by riding your bike around town with your friends and family. Reconnect with your inner child and get back on a bike to decrease cholesterol.
Cycling/biking burns the same calories as running but is gentler on the knees. All you have to do now is pick a bike that is the right size and comfortable for you and ride off into the sunset with a healthier than before cholesterol level.
Physical Activity (1 hour each) Calories burned acc. to 130lbs (weight)Calories burned acc. to 155lbs (weight)Calories burned acc. to 190lbs(weight) Bicycling, light325387474Bicycling, moderate413493604Bicycling, vigorous620739906
If walking, jogging, or biking are too taxing on your body, swimming can help you lower your cholesterol just as well.
When you swim a few laps in the pool, you’re exercising your complete body in a way that can feel therapeutic. Swimming is good for your overall heart health, including cholesterol reduction.
Physical Activity (1 hour each) Calories burned acc. to 130lbs (weight)Calories burned acc. to 155lbs (weight)Calories burned acc. to 190lbs(weight) Swimming, general, leisurely 354422518Swiming, freestyle, moderate 472563690Swiming, vigorous laps590704863
The best news for those who aren’t fans of cardio is that yoga is also beneficial. To achieve cardiovascular advantages, however, you must raise your heart rate. Yoga is also helpful for the following:
Improved flexibility.Working your physical and mental muscles and getting better sleep can lead to better lifestyle patterns.Yoga’s slowness can be less intimidating than other activities, primarily if you haven’t worked out regularly before.
3. Avoid Smoking
The deadly consequences of smoking are no secret. Dysfunction of the respiratory tract, lung infection, tuberculosis, cancer, erectile dysfunction and osteoporosis are just some of the many health issues smoking causes. Smoking can be dangerous for people with hypercholesterolemia because it can cause further health complications, making the already suffering body prone to other problems and reducing the quality of overall health.
Research regarding the dose-response correlation between the frequency of smoking and its effect on cholesterol levels proved that in adults aged 16-60 years of age, 0.33 mg/dl of cholesterol increased with each cigarette they smoked. If you smoke three cigarettes every day for a month, your cholesterol levels might increase by 10.23 mg/dl. It might not seem like much right now, but it can be fatal with your diet and movement.
3. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Being overweight is yet another risk factor, symptom and complication of high cholesterol levels. Reducing or controlling body weight according to one’s Body Mass Index (BMI) would greatly benefit the prevention and treatment of this condition. Diet, exercise and lifestyle choices are contributing factors in maintaining body weight.
4. Consult with Your Doctor
Since each of our bodies is unique, how they would deal with a particular condition may also differ. It is always wise to consult your family doctor and dietician for problems like Hypercholesterolaemia. Usually, family doctors have a clear picture of health issues that run in genetics and have your family’s health records. They might better be able to prescribe medications, diet plans, optimal activity range, and dietary instructions specific to you and your body’s needs.
Hypercholesterolaemia, or the condition of high levels of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream, is a widespread yet complex issue at hand. Most people above the age of 65 have concerns of high cholesterol and high blood pressure and are at risk of strokes. Taking steps to improve and manage all of these would help reduce overall casualties due to heart attacks and other cardiovascular ailments. There exist approaches to treatment that include prescribed medications to deduct cholesterol levels from the bloodstream like the very common Ecosprin. Drugs do not necessarily suit everyone and may have side effects on continuous usage. Another approach could include reducing cholesterol naturally, as mentioned previously, with little to no side effects.
In conclusion, the prevention and reversal of this condition asks the patient to be resilient in efforts and advice from an expert in the field. It can be overwhelming to keep track of all the diet changes, regular movement and making decisions for your body that may seem difficult initially, but that does not change the fact that making the right choices will take you a long way.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. What reduces cholesterol quickly naturally?
A. Dietary changes like ample intake of fibre-rich diets with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and reduction in fatty foods would immediately make one feel good. You can also notice results of frequent movement pretty quickly. Although these are as fast as they can get, consistency is the key.
Q. How can I lower my cholesterol fast?
A. Cut down on trans and saturated fats that add to the water weight, making it difficult to lose weight.
Q. Which foods reduce cholesterol?
A. Reduce intake of fried and greasy foods, prepackaged foods, ultra-sweet foods, foods preserved in salt, sugar or oil like candy, pickles, jams and syrups. Limited consumption of fatty meat and red meat is also beneficial to lower cholesterol levels.
Q. Does consumption of a lot of water lower cholesterol?
A. Yes, drinking water improves your metabolism, keeps a check on unnecessary snacking, helps in digestion, and helps manage weight contributing to lower cholesterol levels.
Q. Are bananas good for cholesterol?
A. Yes, bananas are rich in potassium, and Vitamin B6, improve digestion and have lower blood sugar levels that reduce appetite without the need to count your calories. They also contain antioxidants that help with high cholesterol.
Q. What are the indicators of a high cholesterol level?
A. Yellow patches on skin near the eyelids, discolouration of cornea, indigestion, bloating, numbness of limbs and unpleasant breath are some warning signs to look on to.
Q. Are eggs good for cholesterol?
A.Eggs are high in good cholesterol and do not contain trans or saturated fats. They are a good source of protein and better than red meat. The preparation method of eggs also matters. Boiled, steamed, and poached eggs are better than fried eggs.
Q. Does rice increase cholesterol?
A. Yes, white rice, a staple grain for many, is a refined grain that increases LDL or bad cholesterol levels. It is best to consume it in controlled quantities and choose alternatives like parboiled or brown rice with husk.
Q. How does apple cider vinegar reduce cholesterol?
A. Yes, apple cider vinegar features nutrients like malic acid, acetic acid, Vitamin C and E and pectin that reduce bad cholesterol levels by secreting digestive juices that absorb cholesterol stored in the body.
Q. Can you reverse high cholesterol?
A. Yes, it is possible to reverse Hypercholesterolaemia through diet, exercise, lifestyle changes and prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication if and when required.