What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance produced by the liver and found in all animal-sourced food. It's vital for health as it is used by the body to protect nerves, make cell tissues and produce certain hormones such as vitamin D.
What is the difference between HDL and LDL Cholesterol?
There are two types of cholesterol: 'good' HDL cholesterol and 'bad' LDL cholesterol, which travel through your blood wrapped up in protein particles called 'lipoproteins'. HDL stands for High Density Lipoprotein and LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein.
Too much 'bad' cholesterol can build up in your arteries causing them to harden, which restricts the blood flow to your heart and increases your risk of heart disease. 'Good' cholesterol helps to control the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood by transporting excess LDL cholesterol from your arteries to your liver for removal.
The balance of 'good' and 'bad' cholesterol is important thing to be aware of and is one factor influencing your risk of heart disease. Recent research has further shown that high levels of cholesterol in mid-life (below the age of 65) is also a risk factor in the development of dementia in later years.
There are a number of genetic, health and lifestyle factors that can raise your cholesterol levels, including:
- Having an immediate family member with high cholesterol
- Having an immediate family member under the age of 60 who had suffered a heart attack, stroke or angina
- Having type 2 diabetes
- Being physically inactive
- Following a diet high in animal and saturated fats
As mentioned above. the cholesterol in your bloodstream comes from two main sources - that which you make in your liver is around 800mg per day, and that which is absorbed from your diet is typically around 300mg per day.
Diet to lower cholesterol
Cutting down on saturated fat and replacing it with 'good' unsaturated fats is an effective way to lower your cholesterol. There are two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Examples of foods containing monounsaturated fats include olive oil, avocados, almonds, pumpkin and sesame seeds. Examples of foods containing polyunsaturated fats include sunflower and flaxseed oils, walnuts, fish and rapeseed oil.
Omega 3's are a very important type of polyunsaturated fat. The body can't make these so they must be obtained from food. Oily fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fats, good plant sources include flax seeds, walnuts and rapeseed oil. Or you can opt for a supplement.
Fruits and vegetables are the corner stone of a nutritionally balanced diet. They contain vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals which help you to stay healthy.
Fruit and vegetables are also high in fibre, and some types of fibre can help to lower your cholesterol. It blocks some cholesterol from being absorbed from the intestines into the blood stream. Pulses such as beans, peas and lentils are particularly high in this kind of fibre. Sweet potato, aubergine, broccoli, apples, strawberries and prunes are also good sources. As well as good fats, nuts also contain fibre which can help block some cholesterol being absorbed into the blood stream from the gut.
Oats and barley are grains which are rich in a type of soluble dietary fibre called beta glucan. Eating around 3g of beta-glucan daily as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle is strongly linked to improving cholesterol levels and boosting heart health. When you eat beta glucan, it forms a gel which binds to cholesterol-rich bile acids in the intestines. This helps limit the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed from the gut into your blood. Your liver then has to take more cholesterol out of your blood to make more bile, which lowers your blood cholesterol.
Like many fibers, beta glucan is available in supplement form but it can also be found in whole grains, oats, bran, wheat, and barley. Baker’s yeast and some types of fungi, such as maitake and reishi mushrooms also contain beta glucan.
It is important to use caution when taking beta glucan supplements if you have conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease. This is because your immune system is already overactive. It is recommended that you talk to your doctor before taking supplements if you have any chronic health conditions.
Sterols are plant chemicals which are a similar size and shape to cholesterol. They are so similar in fact that they compete for the same receptors in the small intestine. This means that when you eat food containing plant sterols they block cholesterol absorption into the blood stream and therefore help to lower the cholesterol circulating in your blood.
Small amounts of sterols can be obtained from plant-based foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, but it’s not enough to lower cholesterol. Food companies have developed foods with plant sterols added to them, such as yogurt drinks, fat spreads, milk and yogurts. Or you can opt for a supplement.
A review of existing scientific evidence has lead to an authorised health claim that plant sterols can lower blood cholesterol and these effects can be seen within 2-3 weeks of daily use.
The optimum cholesterol lowering dose is up to 3g of plant sterols per day - there is no evidence to support taking larger amounts is any more beneficial to health so don't waste your money.
It is important to note that to be effective any plant sterol fortified foods or supplements need to be consumed at meal times. This is because they work by mixing with the food in your intestines.
Studies have shown that products containing plant sterols are safe to use in conjunction with statins, in fact because they work in a different way to statins, taking them both together can form a very effective two-pronged approach to treat high cholesterol. Always check with a doctor first though and never stop taking any medication without seeking professional advice first.
Exercise, lose weight and don't smoke!
In addition to eating the right diet, supported by the right supplements, proven ways to maintain healthy cholesterol levels are to exercise, lose weight if you're overweight and don't smoke!
- 1 tablet maintains normal cholesterol levels
- 3 tablets a day lowers cholesterol levels
- Blocks the absorption of dietary cholesterol
- Can reduce risk of development of coronary heart disease
- Specially selected blend to support immunity
- Formulated for rapid absorption
- One of the strongest on the market
- Vegan/Vegetarian cellulose capsule
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.