Most over-60s know that maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is important for their wellbeing. Higher levels of high-density lipoprotein, also known as the ‘good cholesterol’, can do wonders for health, however, health can be compromised when levels of low-density lipoprotein, the ‘bad cholesterol’ are too high.
This bad cholesterol, which some refer to as LDL, impacts people when there is too much cholesterol for the cells in the body to handle. With nowhere to go it can build up on the walls of the arteries, causing them to become diseased.
High levels of LDL cholesterol is a major risk factor for the development of coronary artery disease and can also increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, mini strokes and peripheral arterial disease. While statins and cholesterol-lowering medication is often prescribed to many people with high cholesterol, Australian Integrative Cardiologist Jason Kaplan recently spoke to Starts at 60 about ways people can reduce levels of high cholesterol naturally.
Like many health conditions, the foods people eat plays a huge role in how cholesterol impacts the body.
“For some people, the amount of cholesterol we have in our diet or some of the foods can be very harmful to our arteries, produce more bad cholesterol, which then gets metabolised and then goes from our liver to our arteries and gets deposited there,” Kaplan explained.
While they may be tasty, it’s typically foods high in saturated fats or produced from animal fats that are worst for cholesterol. The difficult part is trans fats are included in a lot of common processed foods such as baked goods or foods that have a longer shelf life in supermarkets.
“These are fats that are added to food so they stay longer on the shelf and to make them taste better,” Kaplan said. “In actual fact, they have very bad effects on our arteries and these sort of fats not only cause the deposition of bad cholesterol in our arteries, but they cause inflammation in our artery wall.”
Because some people are genetically predisposition to have high cholesterol, these foods can have a bigger influence on their diet. For example, smaller amounts of cholesterol in food could translate to bigger impacts in the blood of people who naturally have higher cholesterol levels than most.
Generally before a GP or health professional will prescribe medication, lifestyle and diet changes will be recommended.
“My guidance to people is to first increase the amount of fibre in your diet,” Kaplan said. “So plenty of vegetables, plenty of foods like oats, flaxseed and psyllium husks are also very helpful as well. You need a reasonable amount of soluble and non-soluble fibre in your diet.”
Another big way people can naturally reduce high cholesterol is to move to a more plant-based diet and reduce levels of red meat. Equally, nuts, walnuts, almonds and pecans are helpful in lowering cholesterol.
“A lot of those simple dietary changes will lead to significant reductions in blood cholesterol,” Kaplan said.
Other key foods to cut out to help lower cholesterol naturally include, butter, processed meats such as sausages, salami and bacon, fried foods, lobster and prawns, and sugary and high-fat desserts such as ice cream, baked goods and chocolate.
Just as diet is important in lowering levels of LDL, physical exercise and activity is important. In fact, it’s something Kaplan regularly encourages his patients, particularly those over the age of 60, to do as often as possible. Having said that, other health issues such as arthritis, and hip and knee problems can prevent people from participating in more heavily impacted exercises.
“There are things that can still be beneficial such as rowing, aqua aerobics, even regular brisk walking provides a significant benefit as well,” Kaplan explained. “I would recommend people find the exercise that works best for them.”
It’s always important to speak with a GP or health professional about the best ways of lowering high cholesterol, as advice can differ for individuals. Those at highest risk of a coronary episode may still be prescribed statins or medications, but may also be given advice on diet and lifestyle changes that will help them.