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Cholesterol and lipid lowering: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help


Why is it used?

The 'Western Diet' is thought to be responsible for the high rate of heart disease found in western countries such as the UK and the USA; other countries where a more westernised diet is eaten are also finding that there is an increase in heart disease (and certain cancers). These countries also have higher incidences of obesity and diabetes, all of which are associated with the western lifestyle.

Cholesterol is one of a group of fatty substances in the blood known as lipids. It is essential in the formation of hormones. The liver is able to manufacture cholesterol from fat. High cholesterol levels are caused by diets that are too high in fat and are a risk factor for heart disease.

Cholesterol is carried around the body on special proteins. Two of these are important to consider. They are Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High Density Lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is a bad cholesterol, since this is the main carrier of cholesterol into the arteries, causing narrowing of the blood vessels. HDL is the good cholesterol since this carries the cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver for removal.

The final fat that should be considered in heart disease is Triglyceride. This is the main form of saturated fat which comes from food. Triglycerides are likely to be high in people who have diabetes, who are overweight or who have a high alcohol intake.

Abnormal lipid levels are a risk factor for heart disease, but the risk can be reduced by adopting dietary habits which will improve health.

Who would require the diet?

Anyone who has had a blood test which has revealed abnormal levels of any of the lipids mentioned above should reduce their risk of heart disease by following a cholesterol and lipid lowering diet. The principals of the diet are also suitable for anyone who wishes to minimise their risk of heart disease.

What is the diet and how does it work?

The so called 'Mediterranean' diet is recognised as being the ideal for a 'healthy diet'. This is because it has been established that people from Mediterranean areas appear to have a reduced risk of heart disease, for which several factors responsible:

  • People who live in the Mediterranean enjoy a diet that tends to be higher in fruit and vegetables than the traditional western diet. Fruit and vegetables provide the diet with antioxidant vitamins which help to protect the heart. They also contain phytonutrients. As yet, these nutrients are yet to be fully identified, but are believed to be protective against heart disease and some forms of cancer.
  • The Mediterranean diet is much lower in saturated fat. Saturated fat is found in meat, cheese and milk.
  • The Mediterranean diet has much more mono-unsaturated fats, which are found predominately in olive oils and oily fish.
  • There are even benefits from taking wine, as it contains important phytonutrients, known as flavanoids, that benefit the heart.
  • In addition the diet may vary in other ways - more of the diet is based upon carbohydrate foods (breads, potatoes, rice, pasta and cereal-based foods). Meat or fish-based meals may be replaced by meals based upon beans.

Changing the diet to be more like a Mediterranean diet does not need to be that complicated. There are a few simple rules, which are the foundations of healthy eating:

  • Eat plenty of foods rich in starch and fibre. They are an important part of the diet, so include starchy carbohydrate at each meal.
  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables; aim for at least 5 portions per day.
  • Don't eat too many foods that contain a lot of fat, especially saturated fat. Try to use a mono-unsaturated oil such as olive oil or rapeseed oil.
  • Eat the right amount to be a healthy weight, if you are overweight then aim to lose weight, consider