Keep your cholesterol levels in check this winter
Research into how seasonal variations influence health shows that cholesterol levels, irrespective of diet, vary with the seasons, reaching their highest levels in the winter months. According to the research seasonal changes in plasma volume are largely the cause of the increase in blood cholesterol levels in the winter months, particularly in women.
"High cholesterol is dangerous as it linked so closely to heart disease. Latest statistics show that 5.5 million South Africans are at risk of heart disease due to elevated cholesterol and the medical fraternity estimate that up to 30% of patients don't even know they are at risk. "It is important to regularly check your cholesterol level and if necessary adopt measures to lower it before it becomes a problem," says Peter Jordaan, Principal Officer of Fedhealth.
Jordaan says that high cholesterol ranks as second in terms of the top 10 conditions by frequency amongst Fedhealth members. In 2011 a total of 8666 beneficiaries were registered with this disease, accounting for 5.8% of its membership. "It is particularly concerning as this disease is often a pre-cursor to more serious disorders," comments Jordaan.
Jordaan says that there are many factors that increase the risk of having high cholesterol levels. While there are some risk factors you cannot control, there are other things that you can do to modify your risk. By making a few simple lifestyle changes, you can substantially lower your risk. Giving up smoking can lower your cholesterol levels, as well as help boost your good cholesterol (HDL) levels. Through adding exercise to your daily routine, you can also modestly lower your LDL and raise your HDL, or "good" cholesterol. In addition it will help you to shed excess weight. Some chronic conditions can also cause your cholesterol levels to increase. Managing these conditions will also help you to manage your cholesterol levels.
Jordaan emphasises how modifying your diet can greatly improve your health - and your cholesterol levels. "Eat small, regular meals and a healthy, balanced diet which includes a variety of fruits and vegetables (at least five servings a day) as well as foods that are high in fibre (e.g. whole grains and nuts). Avoid fatty foods, especially those that are high in saturated fats (e.g. full cream dairy products, meat, chicken skin and fried foods). Limit total salt intake to less than one teaspoon (5g) per day. Making these few small changes can make all the difference," he comments.
He explains that there are a number of risk factors, also known as fixed risk factors, which cannot be treated. "These include genetic predisposal where people with close family members who have had coronary heart disease or a stroke, and or high cholesterol have a greater risk of high blood cholesterol levels”, he says, adding "The person's gender is another determinant, as men have a greater chance of having high blood cholesterol levels than women."
In addition he explains that age is also a factor as the older you get your chances of developing high cholesterol increase. Women whose menopause occurs early are also more susceptible to higher cholesterol levels, compared to other women. Even ethnicity can determine predisposal to cholesterol as certain ethnic groups are more susceptible to having higher cholesterol levels, compared to others.
Irrespective if your cholesterol is hereditary or lifestyle/diet related it can easily be measured by means of a simple blood test. "The bottom line is that everyone should know their numbers. People need to have their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose tested at least once a year and more often if you have a family history of hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes or any cardiovascular disease," concludes Jordaan.
Cathy Findley Public Relations
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