Heart diseases like a heart attack are caused by a number of risk factors. Some are beyond our control – example, family history, age and ethnicity. Yet, other risk factors, like high cholesterol, can be managed through lifestyle and medication. The Department of Cardiology at National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), a member of the SingHealth group, explains the link between high cholesterol and heart disease.
How high cholesterol (hyperlipidaemia) raises your risk of heart disease
High cholesterol (hyperlipidaemia) is a symptomless condition, in that it hardly presents any symptoms. There are two main types of cholesterol in our blood:
- LDL (low density lipoprotein) – Commonly known as ‘bad’ cholesterol as it carries cholesterol to tissues, including the arteries.
- HDL (high density lipoprotein) – Known as ‘good’ cholesterol as it takes cholesterol from the tissues to the liver, where it can be removed from the body.
When it comes to cholesterol, the key is to keep LDL cholesterol down, while raising HDL cholesterol. Accumulation of too much ‘bad’ cholesterol in your blood can lead to a build-up of plaque in artery walls, causing a narrowing and hardening of blood vessels (atherosclerosis). This increases your likelihood of developing heart disease.
Common causes of high cholesterol
- Poor diet – Consuming foods high in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Heredity – If your family member have high cholesterol, you may also have it
Tips to lower your cholesterol
- Opt for foods with ‘healthier’ fats such as mono-unsaturated fats (olive oil, canola oil, nuts like almonds and cashews, and avocados), polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils like soybean oil, sunflower oil and corn oil), and omega-3 fats (salmon, sardines and mackerel)
- Choose fish, skinless poultry and lean meat when choosing meat, and low-fat or fat-free milk products
- Consume more fibre-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
- Exercise regularly – Aim to have 30 mins of moderate physical activity daily such as brisk walking, cycling or swimming. If you are unable to accommodate a long workout, spread it into smaller sessions throughout the day or week.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking (if you haven’t)
- Limit daily alcohol intake to no more than three standard drinks for man and two standard drinks for women