Cholesterol has definitely earned itself a bad reputation, but is it really that bad for you? It is important to understand that not all cholesterol is harmful. In fact, cholesterol is a waxy substance that plays a crucial role in building cell membranes, producing hormones, and aiding in the digestion of fats.
There are two main types of cholesterol, namely Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often referred to as "bad" cholesterol, and High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, known as "good" cholesterol. While the former can build up in the arteries and lead to plaque formation, increasing the risk of heart disease, the latter helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries and transport it to the liver for excretion, thus contributing to heart health. It is therefore likely that many of you may make several mistakes while trying to reduce your cholesterol levels. Hence, we spoke to two leading experts to get some answers.
Common Ways To Reduce Cholesterol Levels
Increased cholesterol levels raise the risk of heart diseases and stroke, says the World Health Organization (WHO), adding that worldwide, a third of ischaemic heart disease is attributable to high cholesterol.
"Overall, raised cholesterol is estimated to cause 20.6 lakh deaths... the global prevalence of raised total cholesterol among adults being 39% (37% for males and 40% for females)," the global health body notes.
Dr Bhupesh R Shah, Senior Interventional Cardiologist, HCG Hospitals, Ahmedabad, suggests that a sedentary lifestyle and inactivity can significantly increase cholesterol levels, which is why individuals should adopt a healthy diet, engage in regular physical activity, and maintain a healthy weight. In addition, he says, “It is essential to limit the consumption of saturated and trans fats, while incorporating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into our daily meals.”
“Addressing the major causes of high cholesterol, such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, and sedentary lifestyles, is crucial in prevention efforts. Moreover, individuals must undergo regular cholesterol screenings, including blood tests such as lipid profiles, to identify potential issues and take necessary action," he adds.
Biggest Mistakes People Make When Trying To Reduce Cholesterol Levels
Here are some of the most common mistakes people make while trying to lower down their cholesterol levels:
Cutting out all fats
According to Dr Sanjay Bhat, Senior Consultant - Interventional Cardiology, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru One must not avoid all forms of fats in your diet. They should instead choose healthier fat options that are high in monounsaturated oils, such as olive oil, safflower oil, nuts, almonds, walnuts, avocados, and polyunsaturated fats that have more of Omega 3 fatty acid, including salmon, sardine, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
He says, “Fats provide several health benefits, and are a source of energy. They also help in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and regulate hormones. They are essential for brain health and enhance food taste.”
Not considering overall diet quality
Reducing cholesterol levels is not just about avoiding certain foods; it's also about adopting a balanced and nutritious diet. Focusing on a single aspect of diet, like cholesterol intake, while neglecting other essential nutrients may not give you the best results. A well-rounded diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats is key to heart health.
Not exercising enough
Regular physical activity can help raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol. Relying solely on dietary changes without incorporating exercise into your routine might hinder your cholesterol-lowering efforts.
Stopping medications at your own will
People who are on cholesterol-lowering medications like statin should avoid stopping it on their own. Dr Bhat recommends seeking medical advice before doing so. He also advises against self-medication. Avoid trying to manage cholesterol on your own and without consulting a healthcare professional. If you have high cholesterol or a history of heart disease, it's essential to work with a doctor or a registered dietitian who can provide personalised advice and monitor your progress.
Not getting regular cholesterol tests
Dr Bhat also recommends keeping sugar and alcohol intake to a minimum and getting a lipid profile test on a regular basis so as to get a perfect picture of LDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol levels. Dr Sushrut Pownikar, Head Of Quality Assurance and Deputy Director, Oncquest Laboratories, Delhi, suggests fasting for 9 to 12 hours before a cholesterol test; which means the individual should avoid eating or drinking anything except water during that period. However, it's important to follow the specific instructions provided by the healthcare provider or the laboratory where the test will be conducted, as requirements may vary.
In conclusion, cholesterol is an essential component of the body. However, high levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to the formation of plaque in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and medical management when necessary, is crucial in managing cholesterol levels and promoting overall heart health.