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Keeping cholesterol levels in check is necessary for the maintenance of heart health.1 According to the World Health Organization, approximately 2.6 million deaths a year are attributed to high cholesterol, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.2–4 Although cholesterol can be lowered using drug therapy, improved lifestyle changes may also help significantly reduce the risk for heart disease.3

To understand cholesterol levels, knowledge on the types of cholesterol in the human body is required. There are two major forms of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).3 HDL cholesterol is considered to be “good” cholesterol as it is responsible for removing cholesterol from the blood.3 In contrast, LDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol since it can build up in blood vessels and restrict blood flow to the heart.3 If levels of LDL cholesterol accumulate beyond the normal range, people may experience heart-related consequences.4

The use of drugs known as “statins” is a form of medical therapy for treating high cholesterol levels.1 However, some people with elevated cholesterol may also choose to help lower their levels using natural methods such as moderating food intake and regularly exercising.3 With this in mind, let’s take a look at 5 tips on how to lower cholesterol levels with lifestyle changes.

Tip 1: Incorporate oats into diet

Oats are highly nutritious as they are packed with fiber, protein, lipids, vitamins, and minerals.5 Their ability to lower LDL cholesterol is largely attributed to a compound called beta-glucan.5 As a soluble fiber, beta-glucan is associated with enhanced excretion of bile acids, which are synthesized from cholesterol molecules.5 In fact, the beneficial effects of consuming foods high in beta-glucans are supported by various health agencies around the world, including the U. S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada.5

Tip 2: Eat more nuts 

The consumption of nuts, especially almonds, is associated with reduced levels of LDL cholesterol as well as the ratio of LDL:HDL cholesterol.6 These outcomes are a result of the high content of unsaturated fats in almonds which, like HDL cholesterol, are considered to be “good” fats in comparison to saturated fats.4,6 To elaborate, a research investigation discovered that replacing a whole-wheat muffin with 100 grams of almonds can lead to a 9.4% decrease in LDL and a 12% decrease in the LDL:HDL ratio.6 Nonetheless, keep in mind that since almonds have a relatively high fat content, they should be consumed in moderation – as is the case with any type of food.6

Tip 3: Create meals with avocados

Like nuts, avocados contain a high percentage of unsaturated fats and are linked to reduced LDL.7 Simply improving the quality of fats consumed, which can be done by replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats, can help reduce the need for drug therapy when it comes to heart disease.4 In a research study that involved eating one avocado a day, levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and the LDL:HDL cholesterol ratio were all significantly reduced after a two-week period.7

Tip 4: Replace corn oil with extra virgin olive oil when cooking

The types of oils people use to cook with can also have an impact on cholesterol levels. If the commonly used corn oil is replaced with extra virgin olive oil, users may see an improvement.8 In particular, supplementing meals with extra virgin olive oil is linked to a reduction in LDL cholesterol and an improvement in the glycemic index after eating when compared to corn oil.8

Tip 5: Engage in regular exercise

By itself, exercise can be effective in helping to prevent high cholesterol levels.3 However, the benefits of exercise are greatest when it is combined with a healthy diet.9 To elaborate, a return to normal reference levels of total cholesterol (2.8-4.9 mmol/L), HDL cholesterol (1.0-1.6 mmol/L), and LDL cholesterol (1.6-2.9 mmol/L) has been observed in patients following a change in diet and exercise twice a week.3 These findings can be observed as quickly as six months and may ultimately reduce LDL levels by up to 20%.3,9

The importance of diet and exercise when it comes to cholesterol regulation

Cholesterol is an important molecule that regulates many biological functions in the body that include maintaining cell integrity as well as serving as a precursor for the production of steroid hormones and bile acids.10 Factors such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, and smoking may contribute to elevated levels, which is then associated with a higher risk of developing heart-related diseases.1 As a result, keeping total and LDL cholesterol in the healthy ranges, as reported earlier, is critical.

In people with higher-than-normal levels of cholesterol, an improved diet that includes heart-healthy foods such as oats, nuts (almonds), avocados, and/or extra virgin olive oil can be valuable.5–8 Introducing routine physical activity may further help.9 Despite the reported benefits of eating healthy and exercising, please consult your health care provider to determine how to do this in a way that is safe for you and will work in the long-term.

References

1.        Elshourbagy NA, Meyers H V., Abdel-Meguid SS. Cholesterol: The good, the bad, and the ugly-therapeutic targets for the treatment of dyslipidemia. Med Princ Pract. 2014;23(2):99-111. doi:10.1159/000356856

2.        WHO. Raised cholesterol. https://www.who.int/data/gho/indicator-metadata-registry/imr-details/3236. Published 2022. Accessed March 24, 2022.

3.        Janse Van Rensburg WJ. Lifestyle Change Alone Sufficient to Lower Cholesterol in Male Patient With Moderately Elevated Cholesterol: A Case Report. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2019;13(2):148-155. doi:10.1177/1559827618806841

4.        Harland JI. Food combinations for cholesterol lowering. Nutr Res Rev. 2012;25(2):249-266. doi:10.1017/S0954422412000170

5.        Joyce SA, Kamil A, Fleige L, Gahan CGM. The Cholesterol-Lowering Effect of Oats and Oat Beta Glucan: Modes of Action and Potential Role of Bile Acids and the Microbiome. Front Nutr. 2019;6(November):1-15. doi:10.3389/fnut.2019.00171

6.        Jenkins DJA, Kendall CWC, Marchie A, et al. Dose response of almonds on coronary heart disease risk factors: Blood lipids, oxidized low-density lipoproteins, lipoprotein(a), homocysteine, and pulmonary nitric oxide: A randomized, controlled, crossover trial. Circulation. 2002;106(11):1327-1332. doi:10.1161/01.CIR.0000028421.91733.20

7.        Wang L, Bordi PL, Fleming JA, Hill AM, Kris-Etherton PM. Effect of a moderate fat diet with and without avocados on lipoprotein particle number, size and subclasses in overweight and obese adults: A randomized, controlled trial. J Am Heart Assoc. 2015;4(1):1-14. doi:10.1161/JAHA.114.001355

8.        Violi F, Loffredo L, Pignatelli P, et al. Extra virgin olive oil use is associated with improved post-prandial blood glucose and LDL cholesterol in healthy subjects. Nutr Diabetes. 2015;5(7):e172-7. doi:10.1038/nutd.2015.23

9.        Rosenthal RL. Effectiveness of Altering Serum Cholesterol Levels Without Drugs. Baylor Univ Med Cent Proc. 2000;13(4):351-355. doi:10.1080/08998280.2000.11927704

10.      Zampelas A, Magriplis E. New Insights into Cholesterol Functions: A Friend or an Enemy? Nutrients. 2019;11(7). doi:10.3390/nu11071645

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