Cholesterol isn’t completely evil. It’s a natural, fatty substance in the body used for important functions such as production of hormones, providing an important component of cell walls and making bile acids that help us digest fat. The body needs a small amount of cholesterol to perform these functions but when there is excess cholesterol in the bloodstream it increases our risk of heart disease and stroke.
There are two types of cholesterol, LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein). The LDL is the one you want to keep low, whereas the HDL can actually have protective effects. Factors that can increase your LDL cholesterol include an unhealthy diet (high saturated and trans fats), obesity, inactivity, stress and/or a family history of high cholesterol.
Most doctors will prescribe statins for high cholesterol. While these may work to lower cholesterol, they also come with a range of side effects and usually require you to take them for life. Some of the common side effects include diarrhoea or constipation, nausea and muscle and joint aches. More serious risks include increased blood sugar (which can lead to diabetes), breakdown of cells in your muscles and liver damage. From a nutritional perspective, one of the worst side effects of statins is they deplete your body of CoQ10, one of the most powerful antioxidants that supports energy production and elimination of harmful free radicals.
The good news is you can lower your LDL cholesterol naturally by changing a few dietary and lifestyle habits. Firstly, check the amount of saturated and trans fats in your diet. These are generally present in fatty meats, full fat dairy, deep fried food and commercially processed biscuits, pies and pastries. Any products with ‘hydrogenated oils’ or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oils’ are guaranteed to contain trans fats. Swap these harmful fats for healthy fats found in olive oil, nuts, seeds and fatty fish, which have a protective effect on cardiovascular health. Start learning how to make healthy, homemade treats and snacks so that you don’t feel deprived of baked goods or ‘bad fats’.
Secondly, make sure you include soluble fibre in your daily diet as this can speed up your body’s use of cholesterol. Bile, which is pumped into the gut to help digest fats, is absorbed by soluble fibre and excreted through a bowel motion. The more efficiently this process works the better, because your body uses up cholesterol to make more bile salts. Some of the top sources of soluble fibre include oat bran, seeds such as flaxseed meal and legumes including kidney beans and peas. Most fruits and vegetables also provide a good source of soluble fibre.
Finally, enjoy the release of at least 30 minutes of outdoor activity each day. This will not only benefit your cholesterol through the physical activity itself but it will also provide an outlet for built up stress and tension, which is another risk factor developing high cholesterol.
Start with these simple changes and you might be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your cholesterol decreases. Working with the body to make healthy changes is always a better starting point than taking potentially harmful drugs. Your body will certainly thank you in the long run!