How can I lower my cholesterol levels?
Learn about the many ways to lower your cholesterol levels
Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in every cell in the body which is produced naturally by the liver and can also be obtained from the diet. Found in all animal food products, it is vital for the maintenance of cell membranes, production of vitamin D and bile acid as well as the production of many key hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen. Although vital in the body, too much cholesterol can lead to fatty plaques developing which block the blood vessels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Read more about cholesterol here
If you have high cholesterol levels, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can take to reduce your cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of fatty plaques building up in the arteries.
1. Improve your diet by eating heart-healthy foods
Making a few changes to your diet choices can significantly reduce your cholesterol levels, increase the amount of good HDL cholesterol in your body and improve your heart health.
- Follow a Mediterranean diet
Combining the healthy living habits of those from countries which border the Mediterranean Sea, such as France, Greece, Italy and Spain have been linked with good heart health and low cholesterol levels. A traditional Mediterranean diet is usually low in meat and dairy products, high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.
Find out everything you need to know about the Mediterranean diet here
- Eliminate saturated fats
Saturated fats which are found in red meat and dairy products, raise total cholesterol and LDL levels. For healthier options, instead choose leaner cuts of meat, low-fat dairy and monounsaturated fats. Plants do not contain cholesterol so eating more fresh fruit and vegetables as well as seeds, nuts and whole grains can help to lower cholesterol levels
- Eat more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential in the body but are only obtained through diet. They help to increase HDL cholesterol levels and reduce your triglyceride levels. Increasing your intake of oily fish, flaxseeds and supplementing cod liver oil are all effective ways to increase omega-3 levels. Some sources of omega-6 are better than others, such as sesame and avocado oils which contain lower levels of omega 6 compared to sunflower oil.
Read more about omega-3 and 6 here
- Increase your intake of soluble fibre
Both insoluble and soluble fibre have heart-health benefits, but soluble fibre plays a role in helping lower your LDL levels. Good sources of soluble fibre include oats and oat bran, fruits, beans, lentils, and root vegetables.
2. Exercise regularly
Having an active lifestyle is an excellent way to help lower your cholesterol levels. 150 minutes of exercise a week is needed for healthy cholesterol - as recommended by the NHS. Exercise increases the size of the lipoprotein particles that carry cholesterol in the blood. This means that more cholesterol will be transported from the body tissues back to the liver where it will be broken down and expelled. Exercise is also important in maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for having high cholesterol levels and put you at an increased risk of developing conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
3. Cut the alcohol and cigarettes
Smoking is bad for your health - everyone knows that, so it is no surprise that smoking can raise cholesterol levels. Smoking lowers levels of HDL cholesterol and can injure the lining of the blood vessels. Quitting smoking can help to lower cholesterol levels and decrease blood pressure, therefore improving your heart health. Excessive alcohol consumption for a prolonged period of time can increase triglyceride and cholesterol levels which can lead to the development of high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke. It is advised that both men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week to minimise the health risks that alcohol can cause.