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My cholesterol's high, what can I do? (without statins)

After menopause we’re more susceptible to high cholesterol. And while cholesterol may be more a symptom than the real problem, it’s wise to get your numbers in the healthy range. But how do you do that, especially if you don’t want to take medication?

Let’s start by reiterating that cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance that plays a vital role in the function of every cell in our body. It also helps to make sex hormones, bile acids and vitamin D.

Most of our cholesterol (about 80%) is made by our own livers, and livers aren’t silly. They make it because we need it for all the jobs it does.

Recent thinking is that diseases such as heart disease aren’t so much caused by cholesterol as by inflammation and insulin resistance, which show up in conjunction with high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess belly fat, smoking and high stress levels.

Abnormal cholesterol and triglycerides occur in response, and the reason that statins work is that they reduce inflammation.

We can reduce inflammation and insulin resistance by addressing our diet, exercise, stress and sleep. (And smoking obviously, but that one’s so obvious I won’t focus on it here.)

Our waist size can be a guide as to how we're going on this. At 60 or 70 we’re not going to have our 20-year-old waistline, but if the tape measure goes beyond 80cms at the narrowest part, we're considered to have a higher risk of disease. 

It does sound like a broken record, but the only way to reduce your belly is by turning around your lifestyle (i.e. diet, exercise, stress and sleep). 

So a good first strategy is to overhaul your diet. 

An anti-inflammatory diet includes foods such as vegies, fruit, nuts and seeds, legumes, seafood, olive oil, and herbs and spices (such as turmeric).

If you need a place to start, eat more vegies. The recommendation of five per day is barely sufficient. Shoot for at least a couple more than that, in stir fries, soups, salads, curries. 

Most of us can healthily eat some eggs, dairy and red meat, but go for quality — sugar free, chemical free, and so on. 
Toss the sugar, refined cereals, most commercial breads and crackers, pasta, white rice, fruit juice, processed meat, refined salt, trans fats, margarine, vegetable oils, and most of what’s on supermarket shelves. (A recent study showed that two-thirds of supermarket items are highly processed, so be discriminating.)

Some supplements — such as Coenzyme Q10 — can also help to reduce inflammation, but get into a healthy routine with food first.

Remember too that it’s your liver’s job to get rid of excess cholesterol, and it can’t do that if it’s overloaded.

Livers appreciate foods such as vegies (e.g. brassicas, the onion family and leafy greens) and turmeric. They’re also grateful when you go easy on alcohol.

It's worth adding that some people improve their cholesterol by eating less, through regimes such as the 5:2 diet.

Your next strategy is to move more: sit less, garden, walk, swim, dance, whatever. Every bit helps. Strength training has been shown to have a positive effect on cholesterol levels after only a few weeks. 

Third, be proactive about managing stress. When you’re stressed you’re less likely to eat well, and the stress hormone cortisol can add to that spare tyre. I’ve got a friend who swears she’s improved her cholesterol results through meditation and a relaxed breathing practice.

Finally, get enough sleep — at least seven hours a night. Less than five is also linked to weight gain.

Over time, a sensible aim is to reduce our triglycerides and increase our HDL cholesterol. 

While it’s true that some people inherit a cholesterol problem, it’s a small number. More of us inherit our family’s habits. 

But by improving your diet, exercise, stress and sleep, you can expect to do good things for your health and your blood test results.

Even if you still end up needing medication, you’ll have made huge gains.

Photo source: Bigstock 

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Thursday, June 28, 2018 | Rhonda Anderson