170% Increase in Cholesterol Drug Use Over 8 Years
Cholesterol has become a big issue concerning people’s health over the last few years. The Nuffield Trust in London recently reported a 170% increase of the number of prescriptions for Simvastatin tablets – drugs used to limit cholesterol produced in a person’s body – over an eight-year period. The trust, which is an authoritative and independent source of evidence-based “cutting edge” research to help improve UK health care, reported the number of prescribed tablets rose from 16.5m in 2005 to a staggering 39.9m in 2013.
NHS guidelines are now in the process of being changed from recommendations to prescribe the drug to people with a 20% risk of heart disease, caused by cholesterol, to prescribing it to those with a 10% risk. News reports earlier this year also suggest the drug may soon be prescribed to anyone in the UK over the age of 50. Current draft proposals suggest men aged over 50 and women over the age of 60 are likely to be advised to take the drug to help prevent strokes and heart disease.
It goes without saying, the older you get, the more the likelihood there is of having high cholesterol in your body. And the 50-plus age group is certainly at risk when it comes to cholesterol. According to a Joint Health Survey published by the British Heart Foundation, figures in 2009 demonstrated 70% of men aged between 55 and 64 had high cholesterol problems, with 83% of women in the same “high risk” age group.
Cholesterol: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
But before we go any further, what exactly is cholesterol? Cholesterol is naturally made in the body, but certain foods do contain it as well, such as those high in saturated fat. The waxy like substance, which is found in the body’s cells, takes on two different forms, which are good and bad. Yes, despite what we might think, we actually need good cholesterol in our bodies to manufacture Vitamin D, hormones and aids to digest our foods.
Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood, so must be transported through the bloodstream by carriers called lipoproteins – named as such because they’re made of fat (lipid) and proteins. LDLs (low density lipoproteins) are considered bad cholesterol because they contain plaque, which can clog the arteries, while HDLs (high density lipoproteins) are considered good cholesterol because they remove LDLs from the arteries. A higher level of LDL in your bloodstream could result in clogged arteries, which could consequently develop into coronary heart disease.
Simvastatin, as mentioned earlier, is the most commonly prescribed drug used to limit cholesterol production. But statins are also used, which lower the levels of bad cholesterol in the body, by reducing the production of cholesterol in the liver.
Your GP will often refer you for blood tests to check your cholesterol levels, as a regular precaution, once you have hit your 50s. If your test results show a higher level of bad cholesterol than desirable, you may be prescribed to take statins to bring the bad cholesterol level down. But before taking these, it is wise to first discuss with your GP their content and possible side effects.
Reducing Cholesterol Naturally
Away from the world of statins and Simvastatin, there are ways you can try to lower your cholesterol naturally. While they are not proven ways to reduce cholesterol to acceptable levels, they certainly will help.
Eat the Right Fats
It is important to not just eat less fat, but the right fats too. Keep your daily intake of fat below 20% of your calorie intake. Choose foods which are low in saturated fats, but high in essential fatty acids. Main sources of fatty acids are in fish, shellfish and plants. Oily fish, such as tuna, salmon and sea bass also contain the healthy Omega 3 fatty acids – explained in Dr Chris Steele’s latest video. Monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil and nut oils for cooking and dressings, are also a good choice.
Check the Label
If buying pre-packaged foods in the supermarket, get into the habit of checking labels – they can reveal a multitude of horrors. Avoid, for example, foods high in saturated fat, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils or spreads. These carry an extraordinary amount of ‘unfriendly’ items.
Enjoy the Superfoods
It is a good idea to make what are known as the “superfoods” part of your diet, particularly vegetables such as broccoli, sweet potatoes and aubergine. Also, try to include at least one pulse (grain legume) product each day, such as beans, peas or lentils. Nuts, seeds, healthy oil, avocados are also part of good nutrition and can help lower cholesterol, as can soy products and whole grains, such as oats and barley.