High cholesterol: Nutritionist reveals top prevention tips
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High cholesterol means you have too much cholesterol – a waxy substance produced inside the liver – in your blood. Cholesterol performs many important functions, such as helping to build cell membranes. However, consistently high levels can restrict the flow of blood around your body.
This process, known as peripheral artery disease (PAD), often gives rise to the first symptoms of high cholesterol.
PAD happens when plaque builds up in your head, organs and limbs, making it difficult for blood to travel to these body parts, particularly your legs.
Burning or aching pain in your feet and toes “while resting or in bed” can signal this process, warns Aurora Health Care, a US-based healthcare network.
Other signs include:
- One leg feels cooler than the other
- Erectile dysfunction, especially if you also have diabetes
- Poor toenail growth
- Redness or bluish colour in your legs or feet
- Toe and foot sores that don’t heal
- Little or no pulse in your legs or feet, which your doctor will look for.
How to reduce your risk
To reduce your risk of PAD and other cholesterol-related complications, it’s imperative to keep your cholesterol levels in check.
High cholesterol levels can be reduced by making simple lifestyle changes and taking medications known as statins.
But the first step is to get tested for high cholesterol levels.
Since high cholesterol does not usually cause symptoms, you can only find out if you have it from a blood test.
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According to the NHS, your GP might suggest having a test if they think your cholesterol level could be high.
“This may be because of your age, weight or another condition you have (like high blood pressure or diabetes),” explains the health body.
It says to ask your GP surgery or pharmacy for a cholesterol test if you have not had a test before and you’re over 40, overweight, or have high cholesterol or heart problems run in your family.
There are two ways of having a cholesterol test:
- Taking blood from your arm
- Finger-prick test.
What happens next
If you get a formal diagnosis of high cholesterol, you’ll usually be advised to overhaul your diet.
There are several foods which are not just part of a healthy diet, they can actively help to lower your cholesterol too.
Cutting down on saturated fat and replacing some of it with unsaturated fats is a great way to lower your cholesterol, says cholesterol charity Heart UK.
Saturated fat is the kind of fat found in butter, lard, ghee, fatty meats and cheese.
Instead, you should opt for:
- Vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower, corn, rapeseed, nut and seed oils
- Avocado, nuts and seeds
- Fat spreads made from vegetable oils, such as sunflower and olive oil
- Oily fish.
“Oily fish are a good source of healthy unsaturated fats, specifically a type called omega-3 fats,” adds Heart UK.
Exercise is also key to countering high cholesterol levels. UK health guidelines advise doing at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of exercise a week.
Some good things to try when starting out include:
- Walking – try to walk fast enough so your heart starts beating faster
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