Managing ‘high’ cholesterol is one of the ways you can look after your heart health and lower your risk of heart disease. For many kiwis, cholesterol isn’t an issue, but for approximately 1 in 4 New Zealand adults, it is.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol (matū ngako) is a fat-like, waxy substance that lives in your blood. Your liver produces cholesterol to help your body develop cells and hormones and digest fats. There are two parts to cholesterol
- LDL - low-density lipoprotein – this is the bad guy
- HDL – high-density lipoprotein – the good guy
We need cholesterol to be healthy, but we run into problems when we have more than we need. When this happens, the cholesterol can stick to the walls of our arteries and build up over time, making them harder and narrower and, therefore, more difficult for blood to flow as it should. LDL is the bit that sticks and builds up on our artery walls. HDL works to remove the ‘bad’ stuff and minimise the effect of the sticky LDL’s.
If you have high cholesterol, it means you have too much, especially the LDLs.
How do I know if I have high cholesterol?
The tricky thing is you probably won’t know unless you have a blood test to find out. No specific pain, skin or health problems crop up to tell you something is wrong. So, the next time you visit your GP, ask if you can have one. They’ll most likely refer you to LabTests to get it done rather than do it onsite. Even if you’re young and feel healthy, it can be a good idea to get it checked as high cholesterol can be a case of genetics rather than lifestyle.
How can I look after my cholesterol?
1. Eat heart-healthy food
What you eat can make a big difference in your cholesterol levels. Eat lots of whole grains, nuts and seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables and oily fish and keep cake, pies and fried foods for treats only.
Vegetarian and vegan diets usually exclude many things that increase cholesterol, so this can be a good option if you’re concerned
2. Drink less alcohol
Alcohol can increase your LDL cholesterol so drinking less is one way to lower your overall cholesterol. The Ministry of Health recommends no more than ten standard drinks per week for women and 15 for men. A standard drink is
- A standard can of 4% beer (300ml)
- A small glass of wine (100ml)
- A single small shot of spirits (25 mls)
3. Don’t smoke or vape
Smoking makes your LDL cholesterol stickier and reduces the amount of HDL cholesterol in your blood. Quitting is a great way to reduce your cholesterol levels.
4. Keep active
The Ministry of Health recommends at least 2 ½ hours of moderate activity spread throughout the week. Or 1 ¼ hours if you’re doing vigorous exercise.
Cholesterol and Life Insurance
When it comes to life insurance, we ask if you have ever been diagnosed with high cholesterol. If you answer yes, we’ll ask what the doctor prescribed as treatment, diet/exercise, prescription medicine, or other treatment. We’ll also ask if you’ve been rechecked in the last 12 months. Depending on your answers, we might ask you a few more questions just so that we better understand your situation, such as what medication you’re taking, how often you get it checked, or when you were first diagnosed.
Sometimes we might need a doctor’s report and medical tests, but the more you tell us, the easier it is for us to be able to offer you a policy.
It can be tough making the lifestyle changes we need to be healthy, but small changes can make a big difference. And just like life insurance, if you’re not motivated for yourself, do it for those around you, your friends and whānau.