Although high cholesterol doesn't have any symptoms, an excess of bad cholesterol in your blood can be harmful to your health and significantly increase your risk of other conditions, such as a heart attack or stroke.
Unfortunately, there are no warning signs, so it’s good to get a regular blood test from your doctor and follow these six tips to lower your cholesterol.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is crucial for your body to function normally, but it's a tricky one, as there is both good and bad cholesterol. It is mainly made by your liver and can also be found in some high-cholesterol foods.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
LDL carries cholesterol from your liver to the cells that need it. If there is too much cholesterol for the cells to use, it can build up in the artery walls, leading to disease of the arteries, as well as restricting the flow of blood to your heart, brain and body. For this reason, LDL cholesterol is known as ‘bad cholesterol’.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL)
HDL carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it is either broken down or passed out of the body as a waste product. For this reason, it is referred to as ‘good cholesterol’ and higher levels are better.
Causes of high (bad) cholesterol
- Unhealthy diet (especially saturated fat)
- Diabetes or high blood pressure can increase your risk of high cholesterol
How to prevent and lower high cholesterol levels
1. Keep running
Luckily for us runners, regular exercise helps keep your cholesterol levels healthy. Running for just 30 minutes a day not only helps reduce your cholesterol, but has all these other body benefits, too.
2. Eat dietary cholesterol and avoid bad fats
Some foods naturally contain cholesterol, such as eggs, prawns and kidneys. This is called dietary cholesterol. These foods, although high in cholesterol, have less of an effect on your blood levels than the amount of saturated fat you eat – some studies even believe dietary cholesterol has no relation to blood cholesterol at all.
It's important to reduce your intake of saturated fat – this is in foods such as sausages and fatty meat, butter, cream and many forms of fast food.
Instead, swap these for foods high in unsaturated fats, such as:
- Oily fish, such as mackerel and salmon
- Fruit and vegetables
- Wholegrain foods
- Nuts, such as almonds and cashews
- Seeds, such as sunflower and pumpkin
- Vegetable oils and spreads, such as sunflower oil or rapeseed oil
3. Eat more fibre
Foods high in soluble fibre can also help reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood, so stick to oats (yay porridge!), grains, beans, lentils, chickpeas, and fruit and veg. Good fibre can be found in vegetables such as:
- Sweet potato
- Butternut squash
4. Drink more wine
Yes, you read that correctly! Alcohol – regardless of what type – raises HDL levels (although does nothing to lower your LDL), so help yourself to a glass a day. Experts suggest that red wine is the most beneficial, as it’s packed with powerful antioxidants.
5. Eat more fruit
The bitter white rind on citrus fruits contains pectin, a fibre that is known to lower LDL cholesterol by actually preventing the cholesterol from being absorbed.
Bergamot is a cross between an orange and lemon, and is quite commonly found, despite its uncommon name. Its essential oil is found in Earl Grey tea, giving it that distinctive flavour as well as many perfumes. Researchers believe a high concentration of five flavonoids makes it an effective treatment for cholesterol - two flavonoids have been found to inhibit LDL cholesterol from depositing plaque in the arteries, while others are thought to raise HDL cholesterol.
Include other fruit in your diet, such as:
6. Get the right amount of sleep
Getting too little sleep or even too much sleep can contribute to higher levels of bad cholesterol and lower levels of good cholesterol, as cholesterol metabolism occurs at night. Changing your sleep pattern can disrupt your body from processing the fats and sugars you ate throughout the day.