Raised cholesterol levels are one of the leading risk factors for heart disease. However, many individuals are unsure as to how to manage their cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol – friend or foe?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance, which is naturally produced in the body by the liver and transported by the blood. It has an important physiological role in supporting the body’s organs. However, an excess of cholesterol in the blood can accumulate in blood vessels and increase risk of heart disease and strokes.
Deciphering the riddle
There are various cholesterol-related terms:
- Total cholesterol: measure of different components of cholesterol within body – including HDL and LDL levels
- HDL: considered “good” cholesterol, as it transports cholesterol from blood to liver where it can be broken down and inactivated
- LDL: considered “bad” cholesterol, as it carries cholesterol from liver to blood where it can exert its harmful effects.
Treatment Action Plan
Cholesterol-lowering medication is often used to treat high cholesterol, which acts by reducing the amount of cholesterol the body produces. There are various ways other than medication to increase HDL, reduce LDL, reduce total cholesterol, and thus improve one’s cholesterol profile:
- Regular exercise (at least 30 minutes three times a week) helps increase HDL levels
- Choosing the right fats: There are two main kinds of fats – saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are mainly found in animal-derived foods (e.g. red meat, butter, full-cream dairy products). Unsaturated fats are mainly found in plant-derived foods (e.g. nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil, avocadoes). Saturated fats increase total cholesterol levels and therefore these foods should be limited. Unsaturated fats have many health benefits (e.g. anti-inflammatory and total cholesterol-lowering properties) and therefore these fats should replace saturated fats in the diet as much as possible.
- Increase fibre: Fibre binds cholesterol and helps remove it from the body, and thus naturally lowers total cholesterol and LDL levels.
Thus through sustained lifestyle modifications and a healthy, balanced diet, one can significantly improve and manage one's cholesterol levels.