How can I control my cholesterol?
Keeping cholesterol levels in check helps reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Cholesterol is a type of fat, called a lipid, which is present in the blood. It’s a waxy substance, and your body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, but too much can lead to the build-up of fatty deposits in your blood vessels, increasing your risk of heart disease.
Diet is a key contributor to high cholesterol. The key is to cut down on foods with saturated fat, like cheese, biscuits, cakes, butter, pies, sausages, coconut oil and fatty meats. Eating more foods with unsaturated fats can help, such as avocado, vegetable oils, nuts, and oily fish. There are good diet sheets available on the British Heart Foundation and NHS websites with more detail, which might be worth pinning on the fridge as a reminder.
Exercise can also help lower cholesterol, even as simple as using the stairs instead of the lift, taking a brisk walk or doing two-minute bursts of activity at home, such as star jumps, can make a difference. Stopping smoking and reducing alcohol to safe limits (14 units a week) can also lower cholesterol.
If lifestyle changes alone don’t work, then sometimes medications (called statins) are needed. These are usually taken once a day for life. These can be very effective at lowering cholesterol, and despite sometimes getting a bad press, often they only have few side effects. One widely reported side effect is muscle pain, but most people don’t experience any at all. Statins have been around for over 30 years, have been prescribed to millions of people, and are estimated to save 7,000 lives each year in England.
- This article first appeared in issue 374 of BBC Science Focus Magazine – find out how to subscribe here
Dr Nish Manek is a GP in London. She completed her medical degree at Imperial College and was runner-up in the University of London Gold Medal. Manek has also developed teaching courses for Oxford Medical School, and has penned articles for The Guardian and Pulse magazine.
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