Can You Lower Your Cholesterol Just By Changing Your Diet
Statins are used to lower cholesterol but how much can be achieved with changes to diet alone, asks Michael Mosley.
Over the many years that I’ve been making science documentaries I’ve covered a huge range of subjects, but there is one that is of particular personal interest. My family tree is riddled with heart disease and I know that, unchecked, my cholesterol scores tend to soar.
I am not alone – 60% of people in Britain have cholesterol levels that are too high and increasingly we are recommended to go on statins. Yet statins have side effects and many people are reluctant to go on a lifetime of pills.
So, for the current series of Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, we wanted to see if you could lower your cholesterol just as effectively by changing your diet.
We asked Dr Scott Harding from Kings College London to help us set up and run a small study. With his help we recruited 42 volunteers, all of whom had concerns about their cholesterol and were keen to see what they could do without taking medication.
We started by taking blood samples to look at their current levels of total cholesterol.
Cholesterol is complicated stuff. Most of it is made in the liver and then sent to the cells that need it, bound to a lipoprotein called LDL .
LDL is often called “bad cholesterol” because high levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. HDL is known as “good cholesterol” because it carries cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver.
Does Food Cause High Cholesterol
Cholesterol and triglycerides are both fatty substances called lipids, according to the Cleveland Clinic. While both these lipids may have a bad reputation, the body actually needs them to function.
Cholesterol is used to build cell membranes, produce hormones and create bile acids for digestion, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Because cholesterol is so important, the liver actually makes all the cholesterol the body needs.
The body can also get cholesterol from food, known as dietary cholesterol. Until recently, it was believed that dietary cholesterol played a significant role in causing high blood cholesterol. But in a major 2015 report, the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee said that saturated fats and carbohydrates actually have a much greater impact.
Though dietary cholesterol may not significantly affect blood cholesterol on its own, many cholesterol-rich foods also have lots of saturated fats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So it’s still best to limit or avoid these foods, both for your cholesterol levels and your overall health.
The only exception is eggs. Eggs, specifically the yolks, have a lot of dietary cholesterol but are low in saturated fats.
So, will eating a fatty meal cause high cholesterol? No, not in the moment. But over time, eating a lot of saturated fats and carbohydrates can contribute to high cholesterol.
Cholesterol Levels Rise Fall With Changing Seasons
Contact: Beth Casteel, [email protected], 240-328-4549
SAN FRANCISCO Cholesterol levels seem to fluctuate significantly with the turning seasons, which may leave some people with borderline high cholesterol at greater cardiovascular risk during the winter months, according to research being presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 62nd Annual Scientific Session.
While prior studies have shown that heart attacks and heart-related deaths increase during the winter months, researchers in Brazil were interested in finding out whether the prevalence of high cholesterol a well-known cardiovascular risk factor might follow a similar pattern.
“People should be aware that their cholesterol and triglyceride levels vary significantly year-round, which in some cases, may lead to a misinterpretation of a person’s actual cardiovascular risk,” said Filipe Moura, MD, a PhD student at the State University of Campinas, Brazil and the study’s lead investigator. “This should especially concern those who are near the upper cholesterol limit as they may be at higher risk than expected. This is not to say these patients should have check-ups all the time, but we do have to keep a close eye on them and know seasonal variation may play a role.”
“The change in climate and behavior that follows each season can have an effect on lipid metabolism and possibly even heart health,” Dr. Moura said. “However, in order to make this link more research is needed.”
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If Cholesterol Is Necessary Why Do We Have To Worry About How Much We Have
Having enough cholesterol to meet your needs is important. Having too much cholesterol can cause problems. If your cholesterol levels are high, the condition is called hypercholesterolemia. If your cholesterol levels are low, the condition is called hypocholesterolemia. It is not common to have cholesterol levels that are too low, but it can happen.
Tactics To Reduce Cholesterol Quickly
For most of us, there’s really no need to pack our medicine cabinets with pills to reduce cholesterol levels. Natural, lifestyle-based strategies have proven extraordinarily effective in reducing cholesterol quickly and permanently.
Get the top 5 food and fitness tips recommended by the doctors, dietitians, exercise experts, and other faculty at the Pritikin Longevity Center. Pritikin has been helping people lower cholesterol levels since 1975.
Did you know that for every 10% drop in your cholesterol level, your heart attack risk drops by 20% to 30%? Theres more good news: Most of us can reduce cholesterol quickly, and without the need for medications. Simple lifestyle strategies can be very powerful.
Thats what several studies on thousands following the Pritikin Program of diet and exercise have found. Within three weeks, people were able to lower their cholesterol levels on average 23%, which translates into a 46% to 69% drop in heart attack risk.1
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How Do You Prepare For A Cholesterol Test
In most cases, youll need to fast for nine to 12 hours before the test. Make sure you tell the person drawing your blood how long it has been since you ate or drank anything that wasnt water.
There are some cases when a cholesterol test is done without fasting. This is true for tests done at health screenings and may be true for people younger than 20 or for people who are unable to fast.
Some medical societies believe that fasting is not necessary to get a true picture of lipid levels in the blood, while other associations stand by the belief that fasting gives a better idea of a persons heart disease risk. You should be clear on whether or not you need to fast, and for how long, before you go for the blood test.
How Can I Lower My Cholesterol With Medicines
As well as making lifestyle changes, some people will need to take cholesterol-lowering medicines to reduce their risk of heart and blood vessel disease, known as cardiovascular disease. The medicines most commonly used are called statins.
Your doctor will consider all your risk factors for cardiovascular disease before suggesting medication not just your cholesterol and lipid results. If youve already had a heart attack or stroke, taking statins can substantially lower your risk of having another one.
Statins work by slowing the amount of cholesterol made in your liver. In response, your liver uses the cholesterol already in your blood to make up for the deficit. This lowers the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood.
If statins alone do not lower your cholesterol enough, you may need additional medicines.
Contact your doctor if your medicines are causing any side effects.
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How Quickly Can Cholesterol Levels Change
The Cholesterol Levels in the blood is not only affected by the daily diet, but also depends on the speed at which the body manufactures and eliminates LDL cholesterol, and heart disease is caused by the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood. The body can make the cholesterol the body needs without having to get extra from food.
There are reasons
for high and low cholesterol. Many factors determine whether your LDL cholesterol level is high or low, including:
There are genetic genes in the body that control the rate at which LDL cholesterol is manufactured and eliminated, thus affecting the level of LDL cholesterol. And familial hypercholesterolemia is a special hereditary high cholesterol condition, 1 in 500 people suffer from it, leading to the occurrence of early heart disease.
There are two substances in food, which will increase LDL cholesterol
- Saturated fat: A type of fat mainly derived from animals.
- Cholesterol: It also comes from animal food.
Eating too many foods containing saturated fat and cholesterol is the main reason for high cholesterol and high heart disease rate because saturated fat can increase the level of Low cholesterol more than any other food. Therefore, reducing the consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol-rich foods is very important to reduce blood cholesterol levels.
Regular exercise can lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Age and gender
What Should My Cholesterol Levels Be
Blood cholesterol is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, often shortened to mmol/L.
As a general guide, total cholesterol levels should be:
- 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults
- 4mmol/L or less for those at high risk
As a general guide, LDL levels should be:
- 3mmol/L or less for healthy adults
- 2mmol/L or less for those at high risk
An ideal level of HDL is above 1mmol/L. A lower level of HDL can increase your risk of heart disease.
Your ratio of total cholesterol to HDL may also be calculated. This is your total cholesterol level divided by your HDL level. Generally, this ratio should be below four, as a higher ratio increases your risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is only one risk factor. The level at which specific treatment is required will depend on whether other risk factors, such as smoking and high blood pressure, are also present.
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/8here Is How To Lower Bad Cholesterol Level
High level of LDL cholesterol, also referred to as bad cholesterol is a common health concern. It is linked with serious health ailments like heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes, which at times can turn fatal. This makes it vital to keep a track of the cholesterol level to evade life-threatening health issues.
Myth: I Would Be Able To Feel It If I Had High Cholesterol
Fact: High cholesterol usually has no signs or symptoms. You may not know you have unhealthy cholesterol levels until it is too latewhen you have a heart attack or stroke. Thats why its so important to get your cholesterol levels checked at least every 5 years.1,2 Learn more about getting your cholesterol checked.
Occasionally, some people develop yellowish growths on their skin called xanthomas, which are cholesterol-rich deposits. People with xanthomas may have high cholesterol levels.
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How To Lower Cholesterol
If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, medications or both.
Here are some ways to manage your cholesterol.
Eat heart-healthy food
What you eat can make a big difference to your cholesterol levels.
Cut back on foods high in saturated fats like:
- oily fish.
Drink less alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can increase your LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. So drinking less is a good way to lower your cholesterol.
The Ministry of Health recommends no more than 10 standard drinks per week for women and no more than 15 for men. One standard drink is equal to:
- a standard can of 4% beer
- a small glass of wine
- a small single shot of spirits
If you have high cholesterol or you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition, you may need to drink less than this.
Smoking makes your LDL cholesterol stickier and reduces the amount of HDL cholesterol in your blood. It also damages the artery walls. This increases the build-up of plaque in your arteries and can cause risk of heart attack and stroke.
Quitting smoking is a great way to lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Sitting less and being more active are great ways to reduce high cholesterol.
This doesnt mean you have to join a gym or take up running it just means you need to move your body more throughout the day. Ideally you should do 30 minutes of activity a day.
You could try:
Read more about the benefits of exercise.
Does Lowering Your Cholesterol Protect You From Ever Having A Heart Attack
Not necessarily. Since their arrival in the 1990s in Americans medicine cabinets nationwide, statin drugs have indeed proven very effective for reducing high LDL levels, and they do slow the progression of cholesterol-filled plaques. But sadly, the #1 cause of death in Americans taking statins to lower their elevated LDL levels is still heart attacks, states Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, LDN, one of the many faculty who teach wellness education and nutrition workshops at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
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Lifestyle Changes Are Important Too
You might be able to help raise your HDL cholesterol more quickly if you make a few lifestyle changes as well. For example, quitting smoking is one major way to improve your HDL levels since smoking cigarettes is linked to low levels, according to DeVane. In fact, quitting smoking can raise your HDL levels by 15 to 20 percent, according to the 2005 article in “Circulation.” Losing excess weight is another way to help raise your HDL cholesterol. In addition to dietary changes, adding exercise to your daily routine can help you accomplish that goal. The more exercise you engage in, the more quickly your HDL levels will increase. Moderate alcohol consumption, such as 2 to 6 ounces of wine per day, can raise HDL levels, too.
Why Is Cholesterol Important To Our Bodies
Every cell in the body needs cholesterol, which helps the cell membranes form the layers. These layers protect the contents of the cell by acting as the gatekeeper to what things can enter or leave the cell. It is made by the liver and is also used by the liver to make bile, which helps you digest foods. Cholesterol is also needed to make certain hormones and to produce vitamin D. Your liver makes enough cholesterol to meet your bodys needs for these important functions.
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Understanding Your Cholesterol Results
The results of a cholesterol test can be as confusing as they are important. Learn the difference between LDL and HDL, and how to lower your cholesterol. What do my cholesterol results mean?
Thats because lowering heart attack risk is not just a matter of lowering cholesterol. There are many other factors that damage artery walls and increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke, including:
- High glucose levels
- High blood pressure
- Carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke
- Increased tendency towards blood clotting
- High triglycerides
- Remnants of triglycerides, called VLDL and chylomicrons, that flood the blood right after a fatty meal and promote the growth of cholesterol-filled plaques
- Elevated high-sensitivity C-reactive protein levels, which are associated with inflammation that weakens and destabilizes plaques, leading to plaque rupture and a heart attack
- Excess weight, especially abdominal weight
- Stress associated with anger and hostility
- A sedentary lifestyle
How long does it take to lower cholesterol with medication? It depends on the dosage. The higher the dosage, the greater the reductions, but higher dosages often bring greater risk of side effects.
- Decreased LDL and non-HDL cholesterol levels, and
- Loss of excess body fat
Does One Meal Matter
A single fatty meal won’t put you at risk for heart disease. Nor is it likely to change your cholesterol levels or test results. But over time, a diet high in saturated fats and carbohydrates can greatly increase your risk.
Other risk factors include obesity, smoking and a lack of exercise, according to the Mayo Clinic. Genetics, older age and conditions like diabetes can also be risk factors.
The best way to manage your risk for high cholesterol and triglycerides â and reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke â is to follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly and to quit smoking.
Discuss your cholesterol with your doctor. In some cases, you may also be prescribed medication to help manage your risk.
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What Factors Affect Cholesterol Levels
A variety of factors can affect your cholesterol levels. They include:
- Diet: Saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol in the food you eat increase cholesterol levels. Try to reduce the amount of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol in your diet. This will help lower your blood cholesterol level. Saturated and trans fat have the most impact on blood cholesterol.
- Weight: In addition to being a risk factor for heart disease, being overweight can also increase your triglycerides. Losing weight may help lower your triglyceride levels and raise your HDL.
- Exercise: Regular exercise can lower total cholesterol levels. Exercise has the most effect on lowering triglycerides and raising HDL. You should try to be physically active for 30 minutes on most days of the week.
- Age and sex: As we get older, cholesterol levels rise. Before menopause, women tend to have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. After menopause, however, womens LDL levels tend to rise and HDL can drop.
- Heredity: Your genes partly determine how much cholesterol your body makes. High blood cholesterol can run in families.
Eat Fewer Refined Grains Such As White Flour
Were a nation of white food eaters white bread, white rice, white pasta, and white-flour foods like muffins, croissants, bagels, crackers, dried cereals, tortillas, pretzels, and chips. Yes, more than half of many Americans typical diets are made up of hyperprocessed refined white flour, often injected with sugar, salt, and/or fat.
Thats a real problem in part because the more white, or refined, grains we eat, the fewer whole grains we tend to take in. Research has found that eating whole grains can help lower both total and LDL cholesterol, and improve heart health.
In Harvard Universitys Nurses Health Study, for example, women who ate two to three servings of whole-grain products each day were 30% less likely to have a heart attack or die from heart disease over a 10-year period than women who ate less than one serving of whole grains per week.2
When first starting to make the switch from refined to whole grains, many people often feel a bit confused. Where to begin? Whats whole? What isnt?
The registered dietitians at the Pritikin Longevity Center start with one very simple rule. When looking at products like breads and cereals, they recommend turning the package around and making sure the first word in the Ingredient List is whole. If you see the word whole at the top of the list, its a good bet that what youre buying is in fact 100% whole grain, or close to it.
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