High cholesterol level is fast becoming a major problem in Nigeria. A lot of middle aged women and men are diagnosed with high cholesterol level daily. 3 out of 10 people that register in my gym do so because they have been diagnosed with high cholesterol level and the Doctor has recommended exercise as part of their cholesterol treatment.
Another alarming thing is that 3 out of this 3, also have High Blood Pressure and is either Prediabetic or diabetic.
Some of my clients that I spoke with during their fitness assessment and consultation told me what their diet and physical activity consisted of daily.
William eats Okpa (Bambara nut pudding) and a big bottle of soft drink in the morning. In the afternoon, during his break time in the office, he eats Ofe akwu (palm nut stew) with rice and another bottle of soft drink. In the evening he eats Nkwobi (goat head sauce) and alcoholic beverage. When he gets home at night, he eats Egwusi soup (melon seed) with mixed meat and pounded yam. He is usually so busy that he does not have time to sneak in 10 – 20 minutes of exercise. This pattern has been going on for as long as 15 years.
Ifeoma on the other hand takes white bread and cocoa beverage with full cream milk for breakfast. Mid-morning she eats egg roll with soft drink. For lunch, she eats Ogbono soup (African mango) with Garri. In the evening, she eats doughnuts with ice cream and for dinner, she eats noodles with fried eggs and plantain. She has time to exercise but does not exercise.
Which of the two resembles your lifestyle? Are you Ben or Ifeoma?
The good news is that when they realized that their lifestyle and diet was contributing to their high cholesterol, they agreed to make changes to their lifestyle. Their cholesterol level went down. In this post, we will be looking at the causes and prevention of high cholesterol. When you are done reading this, you will know the dangers associated with high cholesterol and what you can do to protect yourself and loved ones
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat carried in the blood stream. It is also found in the foods you eat. Cholesterol is primarily made by the liver and used by your body to make hormones
Cholesterol is transported in the body by lipoprotein. There are two types of Lipoprotein. The high density lipoprotein – HDL and low density lipoprotein – LDL. The HDL is the good cholesterol while LDL is the bad cholesterol.
What is the difference between HDL and LDL?
HDL is the good cholesterol – It transports excess cholesterol (fat) from the other parts of your body and takes them back to the liver where it is converted into bile for digestion or excretion.
LDL is the bad cholesterol – It transports cholesterol (fat) to every part of your body where it will cause harm.
Why is LDL cholesterol a problem?
LDL carries cholesterol to the body. When you have excess cholesterol in your body, LDL will keep transporting it everywhere in your body. With time it causes plaques ( fatty streaks) to build up in the artery walls (artery is a blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart to other tissues and organs). If nothing is done to lower the LDL level, the artery will become narrow and hard.
Diagram A shows a normal and healthy artery
Diagram B shows an artery that has become narrow and hard due to the build- up of plaque caused by high cholesterol level. This may cause chest pain.
Diagram C shows a plaque that has ruptured due to high cholesterol level. The artery is completely blocked. This has limited the flow of oxygenated blood in the artery (blood with oxygen) and has caused a blood clot (when blood changes from liquid to a gel like and darker blood). When the blood flow to the heart is affected by a blood clot, it may cause a heart attack. A stroke can also occur, if it is the blood flow to the brain that is disrupted.
What are the symptoms?
Just like High Blood Pressure, high cholesterol level has no symptom. By the time you have chest pain the artery may already be narrowing. High cholesterol level may cause the following:
- Chest pain
- Heart attack
Causes of high cholesterol
- Lack of exercise – Lack of physical activity is one of the causes of high cholesterol. Exercise stimulates enzymes that help in transporting cholesterol to the liver. In the liver, it is converted to bile and is used for digestion or excreted from the body. Instead of cholesterol coursing through your body it is excreted and will not be able to cause any harm by blocking your artery. This means that the more you exercise, the more LDL cholesterol you push out.
Although all exercise is good, 1 particular exercise stands out when it comes to burning fat and reducing cholesterol and that is aerobics or cardiovascular exercise. If you have not been exercising, I encourage you to start. Find a physical activity you love and start from there. It could be football, walking or volleyball. You can also join a gym where a trainer will help to prepare a personalized fitness and diet program for you.
- Obesity – A body mass index (BMI) over 30 puts you at risk of high cholesterol. Being overweight is not an evidence of good living. It may well be the evidence of cardiovascular disease including cholesterol. Check your weight regularly, at least once a week. The moment the needle starts climbing, get up and do something about it. Register in a gym and if you can workout on your own, do so. Do what you can in a healthy way to bring your weight down. Obesity goes with belly fat and this puts enormous pressure on your heart.
- Unhealthy diet – A diet that is filled with processed carbohydrate and Tran’s fat is not healthy and will lead to high cholesterol level. Eat more of live food. Fruits and vegetables are healthy and do not contain cholesterol. All types of beans are a good source of protein with zero cholesterol.
- Diet filled with saturated fat – A diet rich in saturated fat can lead to a high cholesterol level. The sudden shift from using fresh tomato or tomato puree for stew to using palm nuts has contributed to a dramatic increase in the cholesterol level in Nigeria especially in the East. Many people are consuming Palm nut stew (Ofe akwu), believing that it is healthy. It is not healthy. Even though Ofe akwu alone cannot cause high cholesterol, it is a risk factor because it is extremely rich in saturated fat.
Other foods rich in saturated fats are:
- Melon seed soup (Egwusi soup)
- Fried food like Akara, Doughnuts
- Palm oil: Palm oil is use frequently in African foods. Most people have become used to the red color and get emotional when asked to limit the use. If you are one of those people, try reducing the quantity gradually. If you were using ¼ cup of palm oil for your cooking reduce it to 2 tbsp. If you were using 2 tbsp. reduce it to 1 tbsp. You can also use cayenne pepper (Shombo) to add red color to your cooking.
- Palm nut stew (Ofe akwu)
- Fatty meat: Animal offal like towel, Shaki, roundabout, Nkwobi should be avoided. They are rich in unhealthy saturated fat.
- Rich biscuits – cookies, crackers
- Full fat dairy – Full cream milk
All these foods mentioned above contain saturated fat.
- Diabetes – Excess sugar in the blood can lead to high cholesterol and this could damage the lining of your artery.
Can it be prevented?
Even though cholesterol has a lot of negative side effect and some see it as inevitable, it is preventable. By taking the steps listed below you will protect yourself and loved ones from the scourge.
- Lose weight: If you are overweight or obese, losing as little as 5kg can improve your life and lower your cholesterol level.
- Quit smoking
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Excessive intake of alcohol could lead to heart failure, stroke and High Blood Pressure
- Exercise: The benefits of exercise are many:
It reduces Blood Pressure
It makes you to breathe faster. Your body benefits by getting more oxygen
It controls diabetes
It is an efficient aid in weight loss. It burns calories.
- Omega 3 fatty acids: You can get this healthy fat by eating fish – mackerel, sardine. It is also found in nuts – walnuts, flaxseeds, almonds and groundnuts.
- Eat more soluble fiber: This is found in oats, beans etc. When eaten they form a gel in the stomach. The gel binds to cholesterol and prevents the body from absorbing it. It is then excreted.
- Green tea: A review from 2013 found that green and black teacould help lower cholesterol and blood pressure because of Catechins found in tea leaves. How will you know about your cholesterol level?
See a doctor and ask for a lipid profile test (level of blood fat test).
Making meaning of the number
|Cholesterol level||Normal||Borderline||Borderline high||High||Very high|
|100 or below||100-129||130 -159||160-189||190+|
When do I go for a cholesterol check?
If you are between 30- 60 years, you should check your cholesterol level every 3 years
If you already have high cholesterol or if you are on medication then go for your check up every 12 months.
High cholesterol can be prevented by taking the first step now. Start an exercise routine and embrace heart friendly diet. It is recommended that you should exercise 5 times a week for at least 30 minutes. If you spend a lot of time in the office, visit your workplace gym or join in the workplace fitness activity. Live healthy and enjoy your life.
If you are in search of a personalized fitness and diet program, you can contact me on gmail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit Bellisima gym.
Bellisima fitness online workout and diet plan is coming soon.
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