High cholesterol: Nutritionist reveals top prevention tips
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It is easy to dismiss a build-up of cholesterol – a waxy substance produced by the liver – as not urgent. High cholesterol does not usually present symptoms so it’s easy to overlook its impact. However, consistently high cholesterol levels can cause a blockage in your arteries – a complication called peripheral artery disease (PAD).
PAD can have potentially fatal consequences, hiking your risk of a heart attack and death.
The cholesterol complication can also put you at risk of needing a leg amputation and there are two telltale sensations to watch out for.
According to the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), blocked blood flow to your legs can cause pain and numbness.
As the UCSF explains, this can be a precursor to “gangrene (tissue death)”.
“In very serious cases, this can lead to leg amputation.”
Other symptoms of PAD include:
- Coldness in your lower leg or foot, especially when compared with the other side
- Sores on your toes, feet or legs that won’t heal
- A change in the colour of your legs
- Hair loss or slower hair growth on your feet and legs
- Slower growth of your toenails
- Shiny skin on your legs
- No pulse or a weak pulse in your legs or feet
- Erectile dysfunction in men.
How to ward off the threat of complications
To keep cholesterol-related complications such as PAD at bay, it is vital to get a formal diagnosis of high cholesterol – this can inform the next steps.
Since high cholesterol does not generally cause symptoms, you can only find out if you have it from a blood test.
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“Your GP might suggest having a test if they think your cholesterol level could be high,” explains the NHS.
The health body continues: “This may be because of your age, weight or another condition you have (like high blood pressure or diabetes).”
There are two ways of having a cholesterol test:
- Taking blood from your arm
- Finger-prick test.
What happens next
Following a formal diagnosis, you’ll usually be advised to overhaul unhealthy aspects of your lifestyle to curb high cholesterol levels.
There are several foods which are not just part of a healthy diet, they can actively help to lower your cholesterol too.
What’s more, the more you add them to what you eat, the more they can help lower your cholesterol.
According to cholesterol charity Heart UK, cutting down on saturated fat and replacing some of it with unsaturated fats is a great way to lower your cholesterol.
Foods containing unsaturated fats include:
- Vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower, corn, rapeseed, nut and seed oils
- Avocado, nuts and seeds
- Fat spreads made from vegetable oils, such as sunflower and olive oil
- Oily fish.
Oily fish are a particularly good source of healthy unsaturated fats, specifically a type called omega-3 fats, notes Heart UK.
“Aim to eat two portions of fish per week, at least one of which should be oily,” advises the charity.
A portion is 140g, but you could have two or three smaller portions throughout the week, it says.
“Tinned, frozen or fresh all count e.g. salmon, sardines, pilchards, trout, herring and mackerel.”
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