A HEALTHY BALANCE
Want to know how to maintain healthy cholesterol levels? We get the lowdown from the experts.
A balance maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is key to good health. This fatty substance is manufactured by the liver and is essential for all the cell membranes in the body. It is also the precursor to hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone and the much talked about fat soluble vitamin D, explains Judy Watson, nutrition therapist at Champneys (www.champneys.com). Whilst low cholesterol can affect mood, most probably due to difficulty in absorbing vitamin D, high levels of cholesterol can clog up your arteries which can lead to a heart attack or a stroke. There are two types of cholesterol – LDL or Low Density Lipoprotein, which is the good form, and HDL or High Density Lipoprotein which is the bad variety. The LDL is the type that tends to get stuck in the wrong places, says Judy, whereas the HDL collects up the bad cholesterol and takes it back to the liver to be recycled or broken down into bile acids to support digestion. Any excess is excreted by the digestive system. The problem with cholesterol is the fact that it can be a silent killer, says Marcus Webb, technical director with Hadley Wood Healthcare (www.supersupps.com). Unless you get a test you may never know that you have an elevated level. Despite some controversy the overwhelming evidence indicates that high cholesterol is not a good thing especially if it’s combined with other health issues such as diabetes.
So what is the best course of action? To maintain a healthy cholesterol level, research has shown that the quality of fats in the diet are very important, says Linda Main, HEART UK’s Dietetic Adviser (heartuk.org.uk). So it is vital to replace saturated fats such as those found in animal foods (fatty and processed meats, dairy foods and cakes, biscuits, pies, puddings etc), palm and coconut oils with the unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds vegetables oils and vegetable spreads. The omega-3 oils in fish such as mackerel and salmon and the monounsaturates in avocados and olive oil really help improve your good (HDL) cholesterol levels,â€ says Marcus. They also help to lower the bad (LDL) cholesterol especially when combined with some fibre from grains and beans. For extra support, consider taking 10mg of monocolin-K (derived from red yeast rice). This has been shown to contribute to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels. Enjoy a varied diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, based on starchy whole grains, says Linda. These should cover about two thirds of your plate. Include good heart healthy foods such as oily fish, oats, pulses, nuts, soya and foods fortified with plant sterols and stanols. It is beneficial to keep your cholesterol below 5.1 naturally by eating more soluble fibre in the diet, says Judy. For example oats, beans, bananas, flaxseed and pectin, which is found in orange or lemon peel. Foods to help keep the blood thin such as fish oils and garlic can also be helpful. Another good way to lower your cholesterol is to lose weight, if you are carrying a few extra pounds, and to take a little more exercise. Even as little as 30 minutes brisk walking five times a week is enough to get things moving in the right direction, says Marcus. The more appleshaped you are, the greater your risk of unhealthy cholesterol levels and the risk of diabetes and heart disease, adds Linda.
The stress factor
What is not commonly known is the link between cholesterol and the stress hormone cortisol, says Mary-Lou Harris, senior nutritionist at the New You Boot Camp (http://newyoubootcamp.com). Cortisol is raised by stress, sugar and stimulants like alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes. When you are stressed, or do not sleep properly or enough, or consume these foods and drinks, your adrenal glands produce cortisol, which is made from cholesterol. This in turn leads your body to overproduce cholesterol (in your cells) in order to meet the demand for cortisol. Therefore, it is essential to avoid/reduce these foods and drinks and lifestyle choices that all elevate cholesterol. It is essential to eat/ drink more antioxidants as, if you do have high cholesterol, it can rupture the artery walls, which the body attempts to repair by putting plaque over the ruptured area. This is one of the reasons for atherosclerosis and heart disease as the arteries become narrow. The antioxidants protect the cholesterol (fat) from rupturing the arteries. Include more stress-busting foods in your diet like pumpkin seeds which contain magnesium (known as Nature’s relaxing mineral) and egg yolks (preferably organic) which contain lecithin – this has natural tranquillity properties due to its ability to stabilise erratic cortisol. Oily fish and brown rice are also stress-busting and blood sugar balancing. Relaxing teas like chamomile, peppermint and schizandra teas are useful too. Bathing in Epsom Salts (magnesium sulphate) is a fast way to induce relaxation and manage stress levels and lower cholesterol.