High cholesterol occurs when one’s low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, in other words, one’s “bad cholesterol” is at an unhealthy level. LDL raises one’s risk for heart diseases or stroke and hence, termed as the “bad cholesterol”. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol absorbs and transports LDL to the liver where it is flushed. Hence, HDL is termed as the “good cholesterol”.
In order to lower the levels of “bad cholesterol” and to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels - “good cholesterol”, one could engage in certain lifestyle changes and/or take oral medications prescribed by a doctor.
While medications can improve high cholesterol, taking effort to improve your lifestyle would also be beneficial in helping to tackle high cholesterol levels.
Eating right and improving your diet
There are two types of fats: saturated and unsaturated fats. Together with reducing your total fat intake, you should also reduce the intake of saturated fats and replace it with unsaturated fats. Saturated fats raise cholesterol levels and hence, reducing consumption of these fats will help to reduce LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol). Unsaturated fats are healthier and found in plant foods and oily fish. A type of unsaturated fat which is beneficial for your health is omega-3 fatty acids. Some foods which contain omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts and flaxseeds.
Increase your soluble fiber intake as it reduces the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. Soluble fiber is found in food such as oatmeal, kidney beans, brussels sprouts, apples and pears.
Below are some simple swaps you can make in your diet!
Leading an active lifestyle
Replace a sedentary lifestyle with one filled with exercise as exercise can help increase HDL (“good cholesterol”) levels. Aim to engage in 2.5 hours of exercise per week. When first starting out, do not overexert yourself. Start out with simple exercises such as walking and build up your stamina slowly. Most importantly, love what you do to stay motivated. Ensure that you check with your doctor on the types of exercises that you can engage in.
Smoking increases the risk of heart attacks, stroke and cancer. Avoiding smoking helps to improve HDL (“good cholesterol”) cholesterol levels! In order to quit smoking, you can get help from your doctor.
Drink in moderation
Drinking alcohol can cause fatty liver disease. When the liver can't work as well as it should, it is not able to remove cholesterol from your blood. Hence, drinking in moderation is essential in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Drinking in moderation for healthy adults means up to 1 drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to 2 drinks a day for men aged 65 and younger.
If you are not in the healthy weight range, losing weight would also help in reducing your cholesterol levels. Small habits can be changed which would slowly help in your weight loss journey. Instead of drinking sugary drinks, opt for water. Cut down on snacking and rather, eat healthy whole meals instead.
Medications and Treatments
Every individual’s cholesterol levels vary and hence, depending on one’s cholesterol levels and how active you are, your doctor may tackle your high cholesterol levels in different ways. Before starting medications, some doctors may try changing the individual's diet and lifestyle first. However, if this does not prove to be effective or feasible, oral medications will be prescribed.
Statins have been around for over 30 years and are the most common medicine for high cholesterol. They reduce the amount of cholesterol your body makes effectively - they can reduce LDL (“bad cholesterol”) cholesterol by around 30%. They also help to lower triglyceride levels and raise HDL (“good cholesterol”) cholesterol. You take a tablet once a day. You usually need to take them for life. Most do not experience side effects but with all medications, side effects can occur. The most commonly reported side effects of a statin are muscle aches. Statins are advised to not be taken during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Ezetimibe is often prescribed together with a statin so the effects add up to lower your cholesterol further. Ezetimibe works by partially blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine. Ezetimibe should not be taken during pregnancy or if you are breastfeeding. Side effects are mild and temporary but include digestion problems, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, muscle pain, headaches and fatigue.
For more information or if you require a medical consultation, please contact My Healthcare Collective here.