When it comes to life-threatening lifestyle diseases, high cholesterol is one of the first ones on the list. But what exactly is high cholesterol, or even cholesterol? Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver that helps produce hormones and keeps our cell membranes flexible. All in all, cholesterol is quite essential for keeping the body functioning smoothly, but in limited quantities. Too much of it, and you can find yourself at risk of a range of health issues.
Since cholesterol is basically fat, it is insoluble in water or blood. Instead, our body has lipoproteins that absorb fat and fatty substances like cholesterol to transport it around. There are two kinds of cholesterol – high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, known as the “good” cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol. When you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, it means that the levels of LDL cholesterol in your body are much higher than normal.
High cholesterol, or high LDL cholesterol levels in the body, can lead to serious complications, from upping your risk of heart attack and clogged arteries to strokes and kidney failure. Medications help, but if you could choose to reduce your cholesterol levels naturally, wouldn’t you want to try? Cholesterol levels depend on diet, smoking and alcohol consumption, lifestyle, and family history. While the last one is beyond anyone’s control, below are a combination of lifestyle and dietary changes you can incorporate in your routine to lower cholesterol.
Avoid Trans Fats
Trans fats are the number one culprit behind most peoples’ rising cholesterol levels because they raise LDL levels in your blood. They are usually found in store-bought fried and baked food items like cakes, crackers, cookies, pies, as well as stick margarine. The best way to eliminate them from your diet is to check the ingredients label on the products you are buying. Avoid anything that says “trans fats” or “partially hydrogenated oil”.
Cut Down Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are harmful because they remain solid even at room temperature, upping LDL cholesterol levels and creating deposits of fat in your body. They are mostly found in animal proteins like pork, red meat, chicken with skin as well as butter, cheese and dairy products. Try to taper off these products in your diet, and replace them with monounsaturated fats that stay liquid at room temperature. These include vegetable oils like olive, coconut, sesame, etc, nuts, and fish.
Load Up on Fibre
Fiber-rich foods are a boon for those struggling to keep their cholesterol levels in check. First, they stop your b from absorbing cholesterol, and second, they keep you feeling fuller for longer, which means you won’t get the urge to snack often. Even five grams of fiber in a day – in the form of oatmeal, kidney beans, lentils, pears, apples, Brussels sprouts – can help. If you find yourself unable to ingest grains and fruits, fiber supplements like psyllium are easily available in the market and can easily do the trick. Exercise caution, though, because too much fiber can lead to stomach issues like cramps and bloating.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Surprise! There is a type of fat that does not raise LDL cholesterol levels in your body, and that is the omega-3 fatty acids. So, load up on foods rich in omega-3, which means lots of walnuts, flaxseeds, and fish – especially salmon and mackerel. If you are not a huge fan of fish, include fish oil supplements in your diet. These foods also have the added advantage of reducing blood pressure.
Try Plant Cholesterols
Supplements like plant sterols and stanols have been proven to manage cholesterol. These supplements are basically plant-based cholesterol and get absorbed in the body in the same way as human cholesterol. The significant difference, however, is that plant cholesterol does not clog up arteries. In fact, they contribute to reducing LDL levels in the body by competing with human cholesterol and getting absorbed faster.
This is probably one of the most cliched health tips, but it is also the only one that works. If you want to reduce cholesterol levels, exercising is non-negotiable. But that does not mean that you have to slog for hours. For those just starting out, even a 10-minute block of exercise every day can make a significant difference. Try to incorporate movement in your daily routine, like getting back to your favorite sports, ditching your car for a bike, and taking stairs instead of the lift.
Get Into Aerobics
Most doctors recommend up to 20 minutes of intense aerobic exercises at least thrice a week for optimum heart health. Aerobics can help raise HDL levels in your blood, thus providing you with an in-built cholesterol tackler. Any activity that raises the heart rate to 75% above the rest rating qualifies as aerobic – so walking, jumping jacks, skipping rope, dance – everything works. Just put on those running (or dancing) shoes and get moving.
Weight Loss Diets
Weight loss diets get a bad rep for harming the body, but they have actually been proven to lower cholesterol levels. Dieting helps your body manage cholesterol production and absorption. It increases the absorption of cholesterol from diets, which then sends a message to the liver to produce less cholesterol. Eventually, bad cholesterol levels decrease, good cholesterol levels increase, and your body is able to find a balance.
Sorry, folks. There is no getting around this. Quitting smoking has been linked to actively reducing cholesterol levels and unclogging arteries. The good part is that the effects of smoking can be completely reversed. You don’t even have to wait too long to see the benefits. In just 20 minutes of quitting, both your blood pressure and average heart rate will get back to normal. In just a year, your risk of getting heart disease due to smoking is halved. I bet quitting is looking good right now.
Moderate Alcohol Consumption
Don’t fret; high cholesterol does not mean a total ban on the nightcap after work. It just means that you are better off not going on wild all-night benders with old college friends at reunions. Alcohol is bad for the liver, and the liver produces cholesterol, you get the gist. If you are under 65, try and keep it to two drinks per day. Adults over 65 should stick to just one. More alcohol than this can result in high blood pressure and an increased risk of strokes.
Lifestyle diseases can worsen the quality of life, but they can also be managed by introducing small changes in your everyday routine. After getting a diagnosis for high cholesterol, try seriously incorporating the above dietary and lifestyle changes in your life before trying out medication. In mild cases, simple changes to diet and mild exercise can significantly reduce cholesterol. However, each body is different and reacts differently to change. Sometimes, natural tips might not help you achieve your desired levels of cholesterol. In such cases, it is best to follow your doctor’s advice and take your prescribed medications. You can then use these natural tips to aid your medication, thus keeping your dosage low.