Cholesterol is a topic that causes so much confusion when it comes to our health.
Cholesterol is necessary in our body as it helps to build our sex hormones – estrogen, testosterone and progesterone, vitamin D and is essential for our cell membrane health and bile production.
When our levels of cholesterol are tested the standard blood tests will usually include
- Total Cholesterol
LDL cholesterol is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol because too much of it can cause fatty deposits to build up inside the walls of our arteries, restricting blood flow to the heart and brain.
HDL cholesterol helps to remove the LDL cholesterol from your bloodstream which is why it’s often referred to as “good” cholesterol.
Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood, used for energy and an important marker for health. If you are consistently eating more energy than your body needs, over time it is likely that you will have high triglycerides. High triglycerides can lower levels of HDL and increase heart disease risk and have been linked to atherosclerosis and inflammation of the pancreas.
Looking at the results of your cholesterol its important to look at all the results rather than just the total cholesterol level. While high total cholesterol including high LDL and high triglycerides may not produce symptoms unhealthy cholesterol levels can put a person at increased risk for coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke.
The liver is responsible for 80% of the cholesterol made in our body and our diet only contributes about 20%.
Causes of high cholesterol
Some of the primary causes of elevated cholesterol levels include
- Menopause / Late Perimenopause
- Unhealthy diet
- Lack of exercise
Other conditions that can be secondary causes of high cholesterol include
- Type 2 diabetes
- Thyroid condition
- Kidney problems
- Liver problems
What is going on in Perimenopause / Menopause?
The liver plays an important part in metabolism by using fatty acids, triglycerides, and cholesterol to meet the body’s metabolic needs. Estrogen helps to regulate the metabolism of lipids in the liver. As a result, the drop in estrogen levels during peri/ menopause leads to higher LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
What can I do?
Improving the quality of our dietary pattern in a way that supports the liver and gut, plays an important role in promoting healthy blood cholesterol levels. Ensuring our bowels are moving every day to excrete cholesterol as well eating in an antioxidant rich diet can reduce unhealthy levels
Supporting the liver can be done by focusing on eating mostly whole foods and including plenty of vegetables. Including vegetables from the cruciferous family which our liver loves such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and brussel sprouts as well as green leafy vegetables like spinach and rocket. Also colourful plant foods that include plenty of red, purple and green vibrant coloured vegetables are great for liver detoxification and can reduce free radicals in the body that increase cholesterol.
A high fibre diet to support the health of the gut is important for reducing high cholesterol.
soluble fibre can also help lower your LDL cholesterol levels When we eat soluble fibre it binds to water and forms a thick, sticky, glue-like gel in our intestines. This moves through the digestive system with cholesterol and helps move it out of the body before it is reabsorbed, helping to reduce cholesterol levels. Good sources of soluble fibre include oats, psyllium husk, legumes, flaxseed and fruit.
Ensuring you are eating quality fats plays an important role in helping the liver maintain healthy cholesterol levels. People are often told to avoid fat if they have elevated cholesterol but this isn’t necessarily the right approach. Including high fat foods from plants such as extra virgin olive oil, nuts, avocado, chia seeds, walnuts and oily fish supports healthy cholesterol levels.
While reducing fats from animals and processed food sources such fatty cuts of meat, excess dairy and coconut oil and processed foods is recommended.
Other fats to avoid are foods high in trans fat such as pastries, cakes, biscuits, pizzas and fried foods.
Moving the body regularly also helps to support healthy cholesterol levels. Research suggests exercise at least 3 times per week can reduce LDL cholesterol and 30 mins of exercise most days can reduce triglycerides. All forms of exercise can be beneficial.
Other lifestyle factors that can help to reduce high cholesterol levels are
- Reducing weight
- Adequate sleep
- Reduce alcohol
Its important to note that high cholesterol during late perimenopause doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. This change of life is common, and it’s important that you focus on supporting the liver and the gut to support healthy levels.
Working with an experienced practitioner can be an important part of the process of reducing unhealthy cholesterol levels. There are many factors that contribute to high cholesterol so piecing all of the recommendations together in a plan to support you and where your levels are at is important for a targeted approach.