Health: Looking after your cholesterol
Jenny Logan writes about monitoring your cholesterol
In my last article, I mentioned the NHS ‘heart age’ check, people are being encouraged to engage with at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-health-check/check-your-heart-age-tool/.
WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance, which is made by the liver, and found in certain foods such as eggs, liver and kidneys. Despite all the negative attention it receives, it is actually essential for normal functioning of the body, as it is used in the maintenance of cell membranes, the production of hormones and the production of bile, the substance which helps us to digest fat.
Cholesterol, therefore, needs to be transported around the body, so that it can get to all the areas which need it. The substances which carry cholesterol around our body are called lipoproteins, and there are two types:
High density lipoprotein (also known as HDL) – this substance is responsible for carrying cholesterol towards the liver, where it can be broken down and passed out of the body. This is often referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol, because it is being carried out of the system.
Low density lipoprotein (or LDL) – which is responsible for carrying cholesterol to all the cells of the body. If the cells do not need any cholesterol, then excess can be left outside the cell, in the blood vessels. This build-up of cholesterol within the blood vessels can cause poor circulation and heart problems, which is why LDL is often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol.
PROBLEMS RELATED TO HIGH CHOLESTEROL
If LDL cholesterol levels are very high, this can lead to a lot of cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels, which in turn has been linked to:
Arterial disease – a narrowing of the blood vessels which send blood to the heart;
A heart attack – The blood vessels serving the heart become completely blocked, and blood flow to the heart stops;
A stroke – a blockage in the blood flow to the brain;
Peripheral arterial disease – a blockage in the blood flow to the leg muscles.
Reducing cholesterol levels can therefore help to reduce the risk of people developing these serious health issues, which is why doctors worry so much about what our cholesterol levels are.
DIET ADVICE FOR HIGH CHOLESTEROL
Eat plenty of high fibre foods – fresh fruit, vegetables, beans and pulses, as this will help to improve the elimination of cholesterol form the body.
Cut out saturated fats, as these have been linked to raised levels of LDL cholesterol.
Increase oily fish, nuts and seeds – as these foods provide essential fatty acids, which help to increase HDL ‘good’ cholesterol – ensuring that cholesterol is successfully transported away from the body.
Lose weight – carrying too much weight around the middle is said to be a risk factor for over production of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the body.
NATURAL SUPPLEMENTS FOR HEALTHY CHOLESTEROL
One of the best products I have ever used in my own clinics is a substance called Red Yeast Rice (pictured). This is a fermented rice dish, with a characteristic red colour, and it has been used for centuries in the production of dishes like Peking Duck, pickled tofu and red rice vinegar.
In recent years, however, it has been discovered that Red Yeast Rice contains a substance called Monacolin K, which has been found to help support healthy cholesterol levels. A supplement needs to provide 10mg of Monacolin K to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol. I have had many happy clients use a Red Yeast Rice supplement, with great results. This has been particularly useful for people who cannot take statin medications and those who want to see if they can get their cholesterol reduced successfully before they have to take medications.
None of this information is meant to replace medical advice provided by the doctor, nor is it intended that these supplements be used in place of medications prescribed by the doctor. These suggestions are intended for people who are wanting to take control of their cholesterol via dietary and natural means, before having to use medications. Any changes to diet and lifestyle, particularly if you are using medications, should be done after discussions with your doctor.