Look after your heart

By Drum Digital
03 September 2010

The worrying thing about high cholesterol levels is that there are no obvious symptoms so you wouldn’t necessarily know you have it. What’s more, it can affect anyone, even those of us who appear to be slim and healthy.

Excess cholesterol is dangerous – it can lead to blocked arteries, a major contributor to cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease, the second-biggest killer in SA today. It claims about 70 000 lives a year.

So we really should know what our cholesterol level is. Do you?

Health experts believe that if we reduce our blood cholesterol by just 10 per cent, a quarter of the deaths from heart disease could be prevented.

So take charge of your health today – have your cholesterol checked and keep it at a healthy level for life.

Things you need to know about cholosterol

1. Chances are your genes aren’t to blame

It’s important to remember that high cholesterol isn’t always related to your diet – some people have a genetic condition that causes the liver to produce more cholesterol than the intestines are able to absorb. But fortunately this only affects one in 500 people.

If there’s a strong history of heart disease or high cholesterol in your family, you should see your GP for a test (see Should you get your levels checked?). Many people think they’ve inherited the condition because their mother or father had it, but high cholesterol more often results from the fact that we usually make the same lifestyle choices as our parents. So, for example, if your mother and father didn’t exercise and ate unhealthily, it’s more likely that you will too.

2. Eggs aren’t the enemy

It was once thought that eating eggs could raise cholesterol to harmful levels because they are high in cholesterol themselves, but it’s now widely acknowledged that this dietary form actually has very little effect on us.

So it’s perfectly safe to eat an egg a day as part of a healthy, balanced diet. The foods that really cause cholesterol problems are those high in saturated fats, such as butter, cream, cheese, red meat, chocolate, biscuits, pastries and cake.

You should aim for no more than 20 g of saturated fat a day. There are simple things you can do to ensure this – switch to skimmed milk, use margarine instead of butter and limit your red meat intake to twice a week. These things will make a big difference.

3. Exercise helps reduce cholesterol

Studies have found that exercise definitely affects cholesterol – it actually increases levels of HDL cholesterol, which is the good kind. A daily 30-minute exercise session is all you need to help manage your cholesterol. So a brisk half-hour walk is all it takes.

Good news for women is that studies have shown exercise has a particularly marked effect on cholesterol in women – all the more reason to get moving, ladies!

4. It can affect your sex-life

High cholesterol may result in a loss of sexual performance. In fact, erectile dysfunction (ED) is an early indication of heart disease. One study found that the arteries of men who had ED didn’t work as efficiently. It’s believed that excess cholesterol can lead to blockages in the arteries, which then affect blood flow all over the body, including to the sex organs.

There are a number of possible causes if your partner’s suffering from erectile problems, but it’s definitely worth making sure he has a heart checkup that includes a cholesterol test so that this can be ruled out as a factor.

Read the full article in DRUM of 9 September 2010

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