16 August 2007

How I lowered my cholesterol

I’m not paranoid about cholesterol, but when my GP told me understatedly that my levels were “just beginning to be a cause for concern” I was, well, rather concerned. It is, after all, my goal in life to hang around as long as possible, for my kids, for all those people who haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting me, and perhaps just to annoy those who dislike me.

I’m no medico, so I’m not about to give a primer on cholesterol (you can find a good one here). But the gist of it is that there are two sorts of cholesterol, Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) which is BAD because it ends up in your bloodstream and can clog your arteries, and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) which is good for you because it counteracts the LDL cholesterol. Most health authorities agree that your LDL cholesterol should be no higher than 5.5 mmols/litre, and I’d reached 5.6. The GP told me not to panic, as I was reasonably fit, not overweight, not a smoker or heavy drinker, although on the negative side, my father had suffered from diabetes. He advised simply keeping an eye on things, and monitoring my diet more closely.

So I did that. I reduced my fat intake, especially fatty meats, cut out butter in favour of margarine, and cut down fried foods a little. I also increased my aerobic activity and dropped a few pounds. 6 months passed and my next test showed my LDL levels down to 5.3 mmols/litre. Progress, but hardly earth-shattering.

Then I made two more changes to my diet. I started using margarine which had added plant sterols on my morning toast, and I increased my avocado intake to 3 or 4 a week.

Less than three months later I saw an ad in the paper requesting volunteers for a cholesterol study. They specifically wanted fit and otherwise healthy people in their mid 30s with LDL levels of 5 and above, and there was a reasonable financial incentive on offer. I went in for the initial tests, and waited 2 weeks before they rang me with the bad news—I was ineligible for the study because my cholesterol was too low. In three months my LDL was down from 5.3 to 4.3.

Of course, I have no idea which was the more significant, the avocado or the sterol-based margarine. I still have avocado reasonably regularly, but I’ve stuck with the margarine enthusiastically, and of the various brands available I have come to particularly like the taste of the Flora variant with Olive Oil. Several years have passed, and my cholesterol is still well in check.

The usual disclaimers apply—I am not dispensing medical advice, just sharing my experience, and your mileage may vary, so do talk to your GP. And it must be noted that plant sterol margarine is fairly new on the market, so no-one knows what the effects are of consuming it daily for many years. But apart from that faint glow I have at night, so far so good.Go to eebahgum!

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