Heart and circulatory diseases are responsible for a quarter of UK deaths and cholesterol levels are a key indicator of risk.
High cholesterol is one of the biggest risk factors for heart and cardiovascular disease – ahead of World Heart Day (29th September), Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi, the digital healthcare provider, suggests five ways to lower cholesterol through simple diet and lifestyle changes.
Cholesterol itself is not unhealthy and every cell in the body needs it, but if there is too much circulating in your blood, it can damage blood vessels.
Thankfully, there are many steps that people can take to lower cholesterol levels and reduce their risk of heart disease.
1) Cut back on saturated fats
Eating a diet that is high in saturated fats increases the risk of high cholesterol. These fats are found in meat, cheese and other animal-based foods, as well as some vegetable oils (like palm and coconut).
Cutting your saturated fat intake could reduce the risk of heart disease by 17%, while switching to unsaturated oils (like sunflower and olive) and generally reducing the amount of fats you use could lower it by as much as 30%.
2) Eat more fibre
Studies show that eating three grams of soluble fibre a day – the amount you get from three apples – can help lower cholesterol.
You can increase your fibre intake by eating wholegrain versions of foods, like cereals, pasta and bread, as well as incorporating more beans, fruit and vegetables into your diet. Oats are also great as these contain both fibre and beta-glucans, a natural sugar that is also proven to lower cholesterol.
3) Exercise regularly
Aerobic exercise is anything that gets your heart pumping and makes you out of breath, and incorporating just two hours of it into your week can reduce the risk of heart disease by 7.6% in women and 5.1% in men.
It also helps to increase your levels of HDL cholesterol, which is the form that protects your heart.
4) Quit smoking
Aside from the other health dangers, like raising your risk of death from all cancers, studies show that smokers have lower levels of healthy HDL cholesterol than non-smokers.
However, after a person has quit smoking, HDL cholesterol has been seen to begin rising within three weeks, showing a clear connection. A GP can talk you through the support available to help you stop smoking for good.
5) Swap junk food for home cooking
Processed foods are often high in saturated fats, refined grains, added sugars and salt, which all increase the risk of high cholesterol and other heart disease risk factors, including weight gain.
Cook from scratch where possible and try to use fresh ingredients. It’s also worth considering a more plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet as research shows it can help reduce blood cholesterol by up to 15%. The diet includes brightly coloured fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, as well as servings of fish and healthy fats, like olive oil.
Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi, the digital healthcare provider, said: “Your cholesterol measurement is a key indicator of your heart disease risk, but if it’s high, these lifestyle measures are proven to help bring it down.
“Young men are statistically more likely to have problems with high cholesterol than young women, although this trend generally reverses after women reach menopausal age when their risk of high cholesterol increases.
“There are generally no outward signs of a problem – that’s why it’s often best to get tested. Your GP can measure cholesterol using a blood test and will consider your age, sex, weight, blood pressure, personal and family medical history before deciding on an action.
“If diet and lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor might prescribe you a statin, as they block production of the harmful LDL cholesterol.”
For more information about cholesterol and how you can lower your risk of heart disease, visit: https://www.livi.co.uk/your-health/6-ways-to-help-lower-your-cholesterol/