High cholesterol is the common name for an excessively high level of lipids in the body. Too much LDL cholesterol can lead to a build-up of plaque on the artery walls, and this increases the chance of a patient suffering from strokes, heart attacks and coronary heart disease.
What Causes High Cholesterol
Excessive cholesterol can be caused by lifestyle factors such as an unhealthy diet, being overweight, smoking, high levels of alcohol consumption and a lack of exercise. It can also be caused by medical conditions such as kidney and liver diseases or diabetes. Elevated levels of cholesterol can also be present in people who follow a healthy lifestyle but have a family history of high LDL cholesterol.
How To Treat High Cholesterol
When a patient is diagnosed with elevated levels of cholesterol, their GP will usually recommend lifestyle changes such as giving up smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, increasing exercise and dietary changes such as following the DASH diet. The GP will then retest the patient’s cholesterol after three months, and if there has not been a sufficient reduction in cholesterol, the GP may then prescribe medication such as statins to complement the patient’s lifestyle changes.
The DASH Diet
The DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet was designed in the US by the government to reduce high blood pressure without using medication. It has since been proven in numerous studies to lower blood pressure and cholesterol as well as to reduce a patient’s risk of other diseases such as heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes and some cancers. It is a modified form of the traditional Mediterranean diet.
The DASH diet focuses on increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables, low-fat and non-fat dairy foods, nuts, beans, and seeds. Over time, the diet has been refined to reduce the number of processed carbohydrates included and to increase the amount of heart-healthy fats. The DASH diet also helps to lower blood pressure by providing high levels of important nutrients such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium, all of which are associated with lower blood pressure. Some people also see additional benefits as a result of lowering the sodium or salt in their diet.
A typical day on the DASH diet includes 6 to 8 servings of whole grains such as bread, cereal, rice and pasta and 4 to 5 servings of both fruit and vegetables. Low-fat dairy products such as reduced-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt should be consumed 2 to 3 times a day and are major sources of calcium, vitamin D and protein. Small portions of lean meat, fish and poultry should be eaten once or twice a day but should not total more than 6 ounces a day. Fish such as salmon, herring and tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower total cholesterol. Finally nuts, seeds and legumes should be eaten 4 to 5 times a week. Foods in this group are good sources of magnesium, potassium and protein. They are also often full of fibre and phytochemicals, which are plant compounds that could guard against some cancers and cardiovascular disease. The DASH diet limits fat to less than 30 percent of daily calorie intake, with a focus on healthy monounsaturated fats.
Sometimes it can seem overwhelming or intimidating making significant changes such as adopting the DASH diet. There are many books available with easy to follow DASH diet meal plans, and there are resources on the internet that provide more information about the diet and provide recipe ideas. This diet is not a diet in the conventional sense, but an approach to healthy eating suitable for all members of the family, not just those with elevated cholesterol.
Exercise is also an important tool for managing cholesterol levels and maintaining a healthy weight. NHS guidelines state that we should incorporate physical activity into our everyday lives and reduce the amount of time we spend sitting each day.