While there are no symptoms of high blood cholesterol, it is a major risk factor for heart disease and potentially some types of stroke. This is because high cholesterol is one of the main causes of plaque formation in blood vessels supplying the heart and other parts of the body, which increases their risk of being clogged.
If your cholesterol levels are too high, it’s important to learn how diet and lifestyle changes can help.
Many factors can increase your cholesterol, subsequently increasing your risk of having heart problems or stroke, including:
- your lifestyle – an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise or physical activity, being overweight, drinking too much alcohol, smoking; you can influence these factors
- certain health conditions – such as high blood pressure (hypertension), type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, and an underactive thyroid; treating the underlying condition can help to reduce cholesterol
- familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) – this is an inherited condition, occurring in about one of 500 people, and can cause high cholesterol even in someone who eats healthily.
So, how can what can you do to help lower your cholesterol levels?
Generally, as with other lifestyle-influenced health conditions – such as type 2 diabetes and obesity – exercise, a good diet and healthy lifestyle measures can help to lower your cholesterol levels. Specifically, these factors can help:
- avoid food containing saturated fats, such as fatty meats, processed meats, junk snack, deep-fried foods, butter, lard, and commercial cakes, biscuits and pastries
- limit certain full fat dairy foods, such as cream, butter, ice-cream, hard cheeses
- eat more cholesterol-lowering foods, such as those with high amounts of fibre (e.g. oats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and legumes), oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, olive oil
- stop or reduce your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks a day, and avoid binge drinking
- if you’re a smoker, quit; smoking increases the likelihood of LDL cholesterol entering artery cells and causing damage
- exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes daily); exercise increases HDL cholesterol levels while reducing LDL and triglyceride levels
- lose excess bodyweight, as being overweight may contribute to raised LDL levels.
Despite taking these measures, some may find they still need to take prescription medicines, especially if genetics is influencing their high cholesterol levels. However, if you have made healthy lifestyle changes, the dose you need may be lower than usually prescribed.
By the way, you don’t need to avoid eggs or seafood, as long as your overall diet is low in saturated fats.