High cholesterol, low cholesterol… it's all very confusing. However, did you know that you don’t need to eat foods that contain cholesterol? Your body can produce all the cholesterol it needs.

What is it?

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is part of all animal cells. It is essential for many of the body’s metabolic processes, including hormone and bile production, and to help the body use vitamin D. However, there’s no need to eat foods high in cholesterol. The body is very good at making its own cholesterol; you don’t need to help it along. In fact, too much cholesterol in your diet can lead to heart disease.

What causes it?

There are several factors that may contribute to high blood cholesterol:

  • A diet that's high in saturated fat and, less so, high in cholesterol.
  • Lack of exercise may increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and decrease HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
  • Family history – people are at a higher risk of high cholesterol if they have a direct male relative aged under 55 or female relative aged under 65 affected by coronary heart disease.
  • Being overweight, which may increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and decrease HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
  • Age and sex – cholesterol generally rises slightly with increasing age, and men are more likely to be affected than women.
  • Drinking alcohol excessively.

Rarely, high cholesterol can be caused by a condition that runs in the family called a lipid disorder (familial hypercholesterolaemia).

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of high cholesterol usually are rare. High cholesterol levels are generally identified from a blood test. The symptoms seen are actually from the end-result of high cholesterol for health issues such as coronary disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Some symptoms of high cholesterol can include:

  • Coronary Disease.
  • Stroke.
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease.

Are there any natural therapies?

The most important thing you can do to reduce your cholesterol level is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. You should try to:

  • Limit the amount of cholesterol-rich foods you eat.
  • Increase the amount and variety of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrain foods you have each day.
  • Choose low or reduced fat milk, yoghurt and other dairy products or have ‘added calcium’ soy drinks.
  • Choose lean meat (meat trimmed of fat or labelled as ‘heart smart’).
  • Limit fatty meats, including sausages and salami, and choose leaner sandwich meats like turkey breast or cooked lean chicken.
  • Have fish (fresh or canned) at least twice a week.
  • Replace butter and dairy blends with polyunsaturated margarines.
  • Include foods in your diet that are rich in soluble fibre and healthy fats, such as nuts, legumes and seeds.
  • Limit cheese and icecream to twice a week.
  • Reduce your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks per day, and avoid binge drinking.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking increases the ability of LDL cholesterol to get into your cells and cause damage.
  • Exercise regularly (for example, at least 30 minutes of brisk walking daily). Exercise increases the HDL levels and reduces LDL levels in the body.
  • Lose any excess body fat. Being overweight may contribute to elevated blood LDL levels.
  • Control your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes. High blood sugars are linked to an increased risk of atherosclerosis.

Did you know?

Knowing your blood cholesterol level may help you lower your risk for heart disease. If your blood cholesterol is high, the cholesterol collects on the walls of your arteries and other blood vessels. As time passes, these deposits harden, blocking the flow of blood to the heart.