October has been designated National Cholesterol Month by charity HEART UK
in a bid to raise awareness of the grave health risks of having too much ‘bad’ cholesterol.
But cholesterol is not all bad news, and the first step in tackling unhealthy levels is to understand both the good and the bad sides of cholesterol. The ‘bad’ cholesterol, more technically known as low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol, lays down fat in the arteries whilst high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol helps clear fat, so it is important to understand the causes of high HDL cholesterol levels and how to encourage high LDL levels to give your body a fighting chance.
Over half of all adults in the UK have raised cholesterol (>5mmol/l) and with many not being aware due to the lack of symptoms, HEART UK is encouraging the 16 million people eligible for an NHS Cholesterol test to get checked.
High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease which is the single most common cause of death before 65, accounting for 16% male and 10% female deaths.
But high cholesterol is something that can be reversed. For many people, this can mean making just a few simple lifestyle changes.
Here are four ways to cut your HDL cholesterol:
1. Swap to healthy fats
A common misconception is that consuming fat is the cause of weight gain, but some fats are crucial to fuel the body. Making sure you’re aware of the difference and arming yourself with healthy swaps is a great first step to combating high cholesterol.
Saturated fat is found mostly in dairy products such as cream, cheese, butter and other whole-milk foods, as well as fatty meats, but also in some plant products, such as coconut and palm oils. Trans fats are found in pre-packaged bread, cake, biscuits and fried foods.
To reduce cholesterol try swapping high saturated fat and trans fat foods for fish, beans, nuts, avocado and lean meats.
2. Exercise daily
Exercise, or the lack of it, can be just as big a contributing factor to high HDL cholesterol as bad eating habits. Doing regular exercise, even just walking at a brisk pace for 10 continuous minutes every day, can reduce the risk of early death by 15%.
Regular exercise also aids weight loss, raises your HDL cholesterol and lower your LDL cholesterol levels and also helps lower blood pressure.
HEART UK advises that adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of intense activity every week. If you can do more that’s even better. Children and young people under 18 should aim to do at least one hour of activity every day.
3. Stop smoking
Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do, not only for cholesterol levels but for your health overall.
As well as the well-documented damage to arteries, smoking also makes your LDL cholesterol ‘stickier’, so it clings to your artery walls and clogs them up, whilst also lowering your levels of HDL cholesterol (the good kind), which normally takes cholesterol away from the artery walls.
Smoking also raises your heart rate, makes your blood vessels contract, and makes your blood thicker and less able to carry oxygen. The blood can’t flow around your body easily, your heart has to work harder and blood clots can form, leading to heart attacks and strokes.
After a year of not smoking, your risk of r heart disease will be halved. You can get support in quitting with the NHS here.
4. Consult the professionals
High cholesterol has no obvious symptoms and cannot be measured yourself and unfortunately, the first indication is usually a heart attack or a stroke. Blood tests are available through the NHS, private health clinics and some pharmacists. HEART UK recommends that people aged between 40 and 75 undergo a test every five years, and for anyone who is taking statins or has a first-degree relative with inherited high cholesterol a test should be taken annually.
You can visit heartuk.org.uk/national-cholesterol-month for information on National Cholesterol Month and on how to take part in the charity’s Great Cholesterol Challenge