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Lowering your cholesterol – Part 1

By: ELIZABETH HARTLAND | [email protected]

Elizabeth Hartland has a Bachelor of Science Degree in nutrition, together with a Diploma from the Institute of Nutritional Therapy. She is married with two young children and has a passion for good nutrition and helping others to find better health.

Heart disease is a multifactorial disease in which a number of risk factors have been identified – one of which is a high cholesterol level.

Whilst it is important to identify all your risk factors and make the appropriate diet and lifestyle changes, reducing or, more importantly, altering the ratio of the two types of cholesterol (just one of the risk factor’s) will reduce your risk of suffering heart disease by approximately 60%.

The cholesterol myth?

The first point that we need to understand is that cholesterol itself is not the bad guy. Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance that is essential to life.

Without cholesterol the body could not function. All animals produce cholesterol within their cells, the liver being the major manufacturing site.

Nature has created this cholesterol-making process because your body needs this substance. Cholesterol is required for the synthesis of bile acids, which are essential for the digestion and absorption of fats in the intestine.

The endocrine glands use cholesterol for the making of some important steroid hormones (progesterone, oestrogen, testosterone).

Cholesterol is also present in abundant amounts in the central nervous system with the body utilising more cholesterol in times of stress and tension to meet the challenges of increased nerve response.

The body transforms cholesterol into a substance known as 7-dehydrocholesterol, which is then further converted by sunlight into vitamin D. Vitamin D is required for the absorption of calcium and phosphorous from the intestines.

Good and bad cholesterol

After synthesis in the liver, cholesterol is enveloped in a protein for transport through the bloodstream. When enveloped in its protein covering, the cholesterol is called a lipo-protein and it is in that form that it circulates through the blood stream.

There are two types of lipo-protein, each acting like a ship to carry the cholesterol around the blood. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are responsible for carrying cholesterol to the artery wall; while others, high density lipoproteins (HDL), help to return cholesterol to the liver.

If you have a low LDL cholesterol count and a high total cholesterol count, that is good news because it means most of your total cholesterol is in the HDL form, the ship which removes it from the arteries. The HDL is thus referred to as the ‘good cholesterol’ and the LDL cholesterol as ‘bad cholesterol’.

It is, therefore, the type of cholesterol in the body (HDL or LDL) and the way the body clears the excess from the arteries that makes cholesterol a relevant risk factor for heart disease.

Excess cholesterol, in the LDL form, can deposit on damaged and inflamed arterial walls. These deposits (which also consist of saturated fats and calcium) are called arterial plaque or atheroma, from the Greek word for porridge, because of their porridge-like consistency. The presence of arterial deposits and thickening is called artherosclerosis.

The cholesterol tests

Cholesterol tests should report not only your overall cholesterol, but also how much of that cholesterol is in the HDL or LDL form.

If you have a high total cholesterol and much of it is in the form of LDL, your risk is high. If you have a low total cholesterol and much of it is in the form of HDL, your risk is low.

Diet and lifestyle recommendations:

Lowering your cholesterol levels via dietary means is not simply a matter of cutting out the cholesterol containing foods. In fact, many studies have been carried out to show that eating a diet containing moderate amounts of cholesterol, for example eggs, is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

The main dietary factors to consider include the introduction of foods that will help to:

1. alter the type of cholesterol i.e. increase the HDL form .

2. remove excess cholesterol from the body by carrying away the bile salts into which the cholesterol has been converted by the liver.

Such dietary factors include increasing the amount of dietary fibre. Dietary fibre makes up the skeleton of plants and is found in fruit, vegetables, cereals and seeds. In the small intestine, fibre mixes with cholesterol and bile salts to wash them out of the system. However, not all dietary fibre has been found to have the same effect with respect to the lowering of blood cholesterol levels. Studies have shown that although the dietary fibre found in wheat bran helps to reduce transit times, it has little or no effect on blood cholesterol levels. Oat bran fibre, however, has been shown to significantly lower cholesterol levels in the blood as well as reducing the LDL’s and increasing the HDL levels. Oat bran contains a substance called beta glucans, which interferes with the absorption and production of cholesterol. Beet, carrot, psyllium fibres and oryzanol, an oil found in the bran of rice, have also been found to reduce both total and LDL cholesterol.

Next week: Your food allies to combat bad cholesterol.

To book an appointment, please contact Elizabeth Hartland on 282 427 652, 916 384 029 or [email protected]