What is cholesterol? Most people think of cholesterol as damaging, something to be avoided. But it is something that is essential for life otherwise the body would not make it. As normal it’s all about balance, you need cholesterol for: -
- Brain synapses. Synapses, the vital connections between nerve cells in the brain, and elsewhere, are made almost entirely of cholesterol.
- Vitamin D. This is a highly important vitamin, not only needed to create healthy bones, but now also known to be protective against a number of cancers. Vitamin D is synthesized from cholesterol by the action of sunlight on our skin.
- Cell Membranes. All cells in our body need cholesterol in their cell membranes. Without it they would disintegrate, as cholesterol provides structural integrity.
- Sex Hormones. Cholesterol is a building block for most sex hormones.
- Bile. Cholesterol is a key component of bile, which is released from the gall bladder to help with food digestion. Indeed, many gallstones are made entirely from crystallised cholesterol.
Low cholesterol levels are linked to depression. For years, we have been told to avoid certain foods, especially eggs because they contain cholesterol. In fact, blood levels of LDL cholesterol, are more affected by eating too much fat and sugar, rather than foods like eggs which contain cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that’s found in the fats (lipids) in your blood. It is mostly made in the liver but it can also be found in foods. While your body needs cholesterol, having high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease. When you have, a cholesterol check you will see your cholesterol levels termed under different headings like LDL or HDL. What do these mean?
There are two main types of cholesterol: -
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL, or "bad," cholesterol transports cholesterol particles throughout your body. LDL cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL, or "good," cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.
What should your levels be?
According to the NHS, the following can be used as a guideline.
As a general guide, total cholesterol levels should be:
- 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults
- 4mmol/L or less for those at elevated risk
As a general guide, LDL levels should be:
- 3mmol/L or less for healthy adults
- 2mmol/L or less for those at elevated risk
An ideal level of HDL is above 1mmol/L. A lower level of HDL can increase your risk of heart disease.
Factors that may increase your risk of high cholesterol include:
- Poor diet. Eating saturated fat, found in animal products, and trans fats, found in some commercially baked cookies and crackers, can raise your cholesterol level. Foods that are high in cholesterol, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products, will also increase your total cholesterol.
- Obesity. Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater puts you at risk of high cholesterol.
- Large waist circumference. Your risk increases if you are a man with a waist circumference of at least 40 inches (102 cm) or a woman with a waist circumference of at least 35 inches (89 cm).
- Lack of exercise. Exercise helps boost your body's HDL, or "good," cholesterol while increasing the size of the particles that make up your LDL, or "bad," cholesterol, which makes it less harmful.
- Smoking. Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them likely to accumulate fatty deposits. Smoking may also lower your level of HDL, or "good," cholesterol.
- Genetics. Some families seem genetically predisposed to manufacture more cholesterol, which means they need dietary cholesterol even less.
- Diabetes. High blood sugar contributes to higher LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. High blood sugar also damages the lining of your arteries.
What can you do?
For many people with high cholesterol the doctors will prescribe statins, which are a class of medicines that are frequently used to lower blood cholesterol levels. The drugs can block the action of a chemical in the liver that is necessary for making cholesterol. I am not one to tell you to not to take this medication but be careful as they do have side effects and there is a more natural way to reduce cholesterol.
Diet and exercise are key to reducing cholesterol to safe levels. As a nutritionist, I would look at your current diet and implement a personalised nutrition plan that will hopefully reduce your levels naturally which will in turn improve your overall health. Some simple areas would be to reduce your intake of animal fats and full fat diary, eat more essential fats and increase your fibre intake. There are also certain supplements that can be used alongside the dietary advice. A few small trials have shown that red yeast rice and simvastatin (statin) produce similar lipid-lowering effects. There are many more studies on red yeast rice and Phytosterols.
If you are taking statins then it is very important you also take a supplement that contains CoQ10 which is needed to protect against heart disease. Statins block the enzyme that makes cholesterol but also the same enzyme makes CoQ10.
I have included a nice healthy recipe that contains good foods to help lower cholesterol.
Zingy Salmon and Brown Rice Salad
200g brown basmati rice
200g frozen soya beans, defrosted
2 Salmon fillets (no skin)
1 cucumber, diced
Small bunch spring onions, sliced
Small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
Zest and juice 1 lime
1 red chilli, diced, deseeded
4 tsp light soy sauce
1. Cook the rice following pack instructions and 3 minutes before it is done, add the soya beans. Drain and cool under cold running water.
2. Meanwhile, put the salmon in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes.
3. Gently fold the cucumber, spring onions, coriander and salmon into the rice and beans. In a separate bowl, mix the lime zest and juice, chilli and soy, then pour over the rice before serving.
Recipe from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1395639/zingy-salmon-and-brown-rice-salad
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