As I write this month’s article the headlines in the news report that the cholesterol-lowering drug “statin” works on less than half the amount of people prescribed them. Statins are prescribed to help lower blood cholesterol levels in the body by blocking your body’s ability to make it.
There is some controversy over cholesterol levels – some researchers have suggested that there is no link between high cholesterol and atherosclerosis, while others reject this claim.
However many doctors are now suggesting to their patients that they look at diet and lifestyle first before being prescribed statins. My father-in-law was one of those lucky enough to have such a doctor. She warned him his cholesterol was on the high side and that he needed to address it through his diet.
So after years of not listening to me he is now finally starting to see the importance of his diet and lifestyle choices.
Cholesterol is actually very important in the body – and low levels are just as worrying as high levels. Cholesterol is needed to help repair arteries, is a building block for making sex hormones and is vital for laying down memories in the brain and the proper functioning of neurotransmitters. The ideal cholesterol level should be just below 5mmol/L, with HDL cholesterol (the good one) above 1.6 mmol/L.
So what can be done with diet?
Well my father-in-law was very happy that I wasn’t getting him to ditch his butter – but less happy when I told him that the bread and potatoes that went with his butter needed to be reduced. Starchy carbohydrates such as bread, rice, pasta and potatoes raise blood sugar levels in the body and also cholesterol levels.
We should be aiming for a low GL-load diet without blood sugar swings. He’s also managed to ditch his biscuit consumption, which I found was accompanying every cup of tea that he was drinking. A diet too high in sugar will result in lots of excess sugar in the blood stream, which ends up being stored in the liver and increasing your triglyceride levels. This then makes you insensitive to insulin so you make more and push your cholesterol levels up.
So the diet you should be aiming for is a Mediterranean type diet – with lots of vegetables and fruit, pulses and wholegrains as these will reduce glucose in the body and help reduce any blood sugar swings.
You also need to make sure you are consuming lots of omega 3 fats – oily fish and extra virgin olive oil – as these will help to protect your heart. Fibre from vegetables is also very important so make sure you are eating at least 8 portions of vegetables and fruit a day, especially the dark green leafy vegetables.
Exercise is also very important in managing your cholesterol levels. Raising your heart for 20-30 minutes a day and incorporating some body weight exercise can help to increase your HDL (the ‘good’) cholesterol levels. If you don’t exercise then you will need to build up to this slowly and would be best to seek advice from a fitness professional.
There are also some supplements that can help to lower cholesterol naturally without the many side effects that come with a dose of statins, so if you are concerned about your cholesterol levels then do seek out some advice from a nutritional therapist.
A nutritional therapist will also help you to work out the root cause of your high cholesterol – for some this could be poor diet – but for others this could be stress, lack of sleep or not enough movement throughout the day.