Why is high cholesterol common over 50?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance your body needs. Cholesterol levels naturally increase as you get older, but may also increase due to high blood pressure, diabetes and weight gain which are more common as the years go by. The menopause can also bring about higher cholesterol levels.
Why is high cholesterol a worry?
High cholesterol can increase the risk of narrowing of the arteries, heart attack, stroke and erectile dysfunction. Cholesterol is carried in your blood to cells that need it, by low-density lipoprotein (LDL is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol). If blood levels are high, LDL deposits the cholesterol in your artery wall, where it builds up. This can restrict blood flow to your heart, brain and the rest of your body. High density lipoprotein (HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol) carries cholesterol away from the cells back to the liver to be flushed out.
What causes high cholesterol?
- Eating a lot of saturated fat
- Smoking: a chemical in cigarettes (acrolein) stops HDL taking fatty deposits back to the liver
- Being overweight or obese – especially if you have a large waist
- Not being physically active
- High alcohol intake
- Some health conditions: diabetes, high blood pressure, underactive thyroid gland, and kidney or liver disease
- Your genes: some conditions such as familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) can cause high cholesterol even if you eat healthily
How you can lower it?
1. Eat well
A Mediterranean-style diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, pulses, garlic and healthier fats such as olive oil can help reduce your cholesterol levels by over 10 per cent, says the British Heart Foundation
2. Eat more ‘good’ fats
- Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocado, nuts and seeds can lower ‘bad’ LDL without lowering ‘good’ HDL.
- Oats, barley, soya, and nuts – the cholesterol-busting superfoods! Enjoy porridge, add barley and soya beans to casseroles, and snack on crunchy almonds.
- Beans, pulses and lentils – their soluble fibre is the key. Try 3-bean salads, chickpeas in curries or hummus, and lentil soups.
- Cutdown on ‘bad’ fats- Saturated fat from meat products (sausages, pies), butter, ghee, suet, lard, cheese, cream, coconut and palm oils, ice cream, some biscuits, cakes and pastries. Trans-fats (hydrogenated fats) – in processed foods, some spreads and baked goods.
3. Get active
Exercise helps increase good cholesterol (HDL), reduce a larger waist, and cuts your risk of weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Doing 30 minutes a day 5 days a week is what you’re aiming for – whether it’s gardening, Zumba, golf, a fitness DVD, walking briskly to the shops or dancing.
4. Know your cholesterol myths!
When it comes to drinking be sure to stick to your units – even if it’s red wine! “Drinking more than the recommended limits of alcohol can harm your heart,” says Dr Shannon Amoils, BHF Senior Research Advisor. Check up on units here. Don’t avoid eggs and prawns. Eating saturated fat has more impact on cholesterol than eating foods that contain cholesterol, like eggs, liver, kidneys and shellfish.
5. Visit your doctor
Talk to your doctor about quitting smoking. Your GP can refer you to the NHS Stop Smoking Service for support. It's also worth talking to then about plant stanols and sterols– they are added to foods such as spreads and yoghurts. Two grams a day can help to reduce LDL cholesterol levels by up to 15 per cent. For more info on these click here.
For further information:
Get a cholesterol test from your GP.
Call the HEART UK Helpline 0345 450 5988Monday - Friday from 10am to 3pm.
Try heart-healthy recipes.
Download ‘Reducing Your Blood cholesterol’ free from the British Heart Foundation.
- Words by Colette Harris.
- There's more health advice in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.
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