CHOLESTEROL: THE SILENT ASSASSIN
Updated: Jan 15, 2020
I’ll be upfront about this: I am writing this blog in the hope that it inspires you to get your cholesterol levels checked. Why? Well, primarily because it could save your life. Time and time again, both personally and professionally, I witness seemingly healthy individuals with dangerous levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and/or low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, with mixed triglyceride levels thrown in for good measure too. This blog is not intended to be scientific, it’s intended to tell a (true) story. I’m sure we all have a sad story or a warning story on this topic and yet so many of us still do not get regular cholesterol checks - it’s kind of crazy.
Most recently, whilst staying with my lovely Uncle Alan in the UK (hence no blog last month!), we decided to take his dog and my son for a woodland wander through the Surrey countryside. What transpired as we chatted was mind boggling to me as a Nutritionist. About 10 years ago, Alan was days off boarding a flight to Sydney when it was discovered that one of the main arteries to his heart was 98% blocked. Had he boarded that flight, he would have died: lack of oxygen on a long haul journey would have ensured this. Blood test results indicated an alarmingly high total cholesterol score and he was immediately put on statins. ‘What about your diet I asked?’ Alan’s reply ‘well nobody ever mentioned that’. Jaw dropping. After a few incredulous questions to confirm what I had just heard, it became apparent that not once in 75 years had any Doctor ever talked to my Uncle about his diet or food or god forbid, NUTRITION!
Now, just to clarify here: not all cholesterol is bad. In fact, the body needs cholesterol to survive and an imperative function of the liver is to produce it. When we give our bodies the right combination of diet & exercise, we can harness the power of cholesterol to work in our favour. However, when concentrations in the blood get too high, predominantly due to the foods we eat, the risk of heart disease & stroke elevate significantly. The scary thing for many people and as a Nutritionist what I hear time and again, is the lack of any signs or evidence to suggest unhealthy cholesterol levels. Perhaps the most obvious trap being weight and the assumption that if we look ok, we are ok. WRONG. In fact, overweight individuals are more to discover they have a problem whereas those in a healthy weight range remain blind to it, and these are the ones most at risk of undiagnosed cardiovascular disease and stroke.
THE AMOUNT OF PEOPLE WHO DIE FROM CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE IS THE EQUIVALENT OF FOUR JUMBO JETS CRASHING EVERY SINGLE HOUR, EVERY SINGLE DAY, EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Quote from ‘What The Health’.
If you consider the fact that a simple blood test (to include full lipid profile) can help predict an individuals’ risk of heart disease and stroke, it’s quite incredible that there aren't more measures in place for mandatory testing. After all, we are issued with regular reminders for PAP smears, breast and prostate screenings yet heart disease kills more people worldwide than these 3 cancers combined. Furthermore, in most cases heart disease and strokes are largely preventable. Indeed, that’s the good news folks. There are so many things we can do to successfully manage our cholesterol levels through diet and lifestyle choices – even when there is a genetic component at play. If we have the power to choose what goes in our mouth and how we move our bodies, then we too have the power to dictate to a large degree, the state of our heart health. It's about being proactive rather than reactive.
Operating as a qualified Nutritionist in Phuket, I see an interesting mix of clients from a diverse range of backgrounds. What I can safely deduce from this is that nobody is immune – regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, education.......we simply cannot cheat a bad or misinformed diet. What we can ALL do though, is fix it: one client of mine recently reduced his LDL(bad cholesterol) by 20% in 6 weeks, he is now just within a healthy range and aims to bring it down further. He is not yet 40 and he is within a totally normal weight range. One blood test and a consultation with a qualified Nutritionist, followed by a serious commitment to change his eating habits and he is now in a much safer & healthier place.
A follow-on blog next month will focus on ways we can improve our cholesterol, across the board – nutrition and exercise guidance as well as simple lifestyle tips to facilitate better choices when it comes to our heart health. For now, I will leave you a little short, giving you an extra minute or two to book that Doctors appointment 😉💚
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