6 Causes of high cholesterol - and how to reduce yours
High cholesterol is a growing problem affecting six out of every ten people in the UK. It's common for cholesterol to increase naturally as you get older, but eating too much saturated fat can also raise your cholesterol levels. High cholesterol can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and is often called 'the silent killer'. Symptoms include:
- Angina - caused by narrowing of the arteries that feed the heart
- Pain on walking - caused by a blockage to the artery that feeds the leg muscles
- Heart attack
But what are the most common causes of high cholesterol, and how can you keep your cholesterol levels in check? We've got the lowdown.
Eating a diet high in saturated fat can raise your cholesterol levels and damage your heart. Saturated fat is usually found in animal products such as beef or pork and dairy products including eggs, milk, cheese and butter. Look out for packaged foods which contain palm oil, cocoa butter or coconut oil in the ingredients, as these can be loaded with saturated fat. Processed snacks such as crisps and biscuits are also a source of bad fat, as well as some ready meals.
Cut back on saturated fat in your diet by eliminating processed food and eating more raw and fresh produce. Include more good fats in your diet, such as monounsaturated fats, found in olive oil and avocados, and omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish.
A beer belly might not look attractive on the beach this summer, but that's the least of your worries when it comes to that overhanging gut. Carrying excess weight around your tummy can decrease levels of HDL (good cholesterol) and increase triglycerides in the body, putting you at an increased risk of heart disease.
Get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day - even if that means walking to work instead of taking the bus. Start getting fit by working out 2-3 times a week; there are plenty of alternatives to the gym if you don't fancy running on a treadmill. Take a yoga or pilates class, or go for a run. Lifting weights can also help you to tone up and shed pounds.
#3. Activity level
Slumping in front of the TV can take years off your life and it's also bad news for your fitness and cholesterol levels. Lack of activity can decrease HDL (good cholesterol) and increase LDL levels (bad cholesterol).
#4. Age and gender
Once you reach the age of 20, cholesterol level starts to naturally rise. For men, levels generally stabilise after age 50. For women, cholesterol levels are usually quite low until after the menopause and then they rise to around the same level as in men. This means you may need to modify your diet more as you age and focuse on decreasing the level of saturated fat you're eating - we have plenty of healthy recipes to help you stay inspired!
Whatever your age, staying physically active and decreasing the level of saturated fat in your diet can help keep your cholesterol levels in check, so make sure you are getting enough exercise.
A family history of heart disease or diabetes could affect you and certain diseases, including diabetes and hyperthyroidism, can lead to high cholesterol. High cholesterol levels also seem to run in families, so if your parents are affected, chances are you will be at some point in your life too.
Make sure you have an annual check-up with your GP to get your cholesterol levels checked and have your risk of heart disease assessed. Prevention is better than cure!
Smoking can lower the levels of good cholesterol in the body and can also lead to the development of some cancers, including lung cancer. It's bad news, full stop.
Kick your nicotine craving to the kerb and try using over-the-counter stop-smoking aids such as nicotine patches or mints. There are even stop smoking clinics where you can get support, or you might want to try hypnotherapy, which can train your brain to stop craving nicotine.