What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance in our blood that either comes from the food we eat, or is produced by our body. Although the body requires cholesterol to produce healthy cells, only a small amount is needed and having too much of it can increase the chance of developing heart disease. Fatty deposits can form in the blood vessels if you have high cholesterol. Over time, these deposits thicken and restrict the amount of blood that can pass through the arteries. While people commonly know that a high level of cholesterol is bad for the heart, what is less well known is whether can high cholesterol cause cancer. In this article, we also look at what we can do to lower our cholesterol level outside of medication.
Can High Cholesterol Cause Cancer?
Despite having no exact answer to what is the main cause of cancer, studies have shown a correlation between having a high level of cholesterol and the increased chances of getting breast cancer, as well as worse outcomes in the case of most other cancers. Cancer cells experience stress as they try to spread (metastasize) beyond the initial tumour site and most do not survive. However, cholesterol seems to make the cancer cells more resilient against such stress. They hence do not die as easily, thus furthering the development of the cancer. Given that statistics already show that 1 in 4 people in Singapore may develop cancer in our lifetime, the potential for cholesterol to contribute to cancer development is an additional concern that we should be mindful of.
What Are the Risk Factors For High Cholesterol Levels?
Several risk factors leading to a high cholesterol level include:
- Unhealthy diet
Unhealthy cholesterol levels can be caused by eating too much saturated fats or trans fats. Saturated fats can be found in full-fat dairy products and fatty animal cuts. Trans fats can frequently be found in packaged desserts or snacks.
People who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher are at risk of having high cholesterol.
- Lack of physical activity
The minimum requirement for you to exercise is at least 30 minutes per day, and a lack of physical activity can increase the risk of obesity.
Smoking can lower the HDL (“good”) cholesterol and increase the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol level in your body.
How To Lower Your Cholesterol Level?
Here are 5 helpful ways for you to lower your cholesterol level.
- Avoid Foods High in Trans Fats and Saturated Fats
Unsaturated lipids undergo a process known as hydrogenation to become trans fats. Hydrogenation is done to increase the stability of the unsaturated fats found in vegetable oils. The resulting trans fats may thus sometimes be listed as “partially hydrogenated oil” on food labels. Watch out for trans fats in food products such as cookies, cakes and crackers.
Red meat and full-fat dairy products contain saturated fats. Reducing consumption of these may help in lowering your LDL / “bad” cholesterol levels.
- Exercise regularly
Increased regular exercise can help to lower cholesterol. HDL / “good” cholesterol can be increased with moderate physical activity. Work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week, or moderate activity for 20 minutes three times a week, with your doctor’s recommendation.
- Stop smoking
Quitting the habit of smoking can improve the level of HDL / “good” cholesterol in the body. It has been observed that as quickly as within half an hour of not smoking, the blood pressure and heart rate normalises from the elevated levels caused by smoking. The blood circulation improves within three months of non-smoking, and in about a year’s time, the risk of heart disease will be half of that for a smoker in otherwise similar circumstances.
- Consume healthier fats instead
You can lower your cholesterol by swapping foods that are primarily saturated fats for those that are unsaturated fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Healthy saturated fats can be found in nuts, olives, avocados, etc.
- Reduce your weight
Even a few extra kilograms of body weight can cause you to have a higher level of cholesterol. Besides having more regular exercise, reducing sugar intake can help to reduce weight. For instance, switch to plain water instead of drinking sodas and bubble teas. If you need to snake, choose options that are lower in fats and sugars – but do note that food manufacturers may either increase the amount of sugars in foods to compensate for reduction in fat content, or vice versa.
Cholesterol Screening In Singapore
You may look and feel fine but cholesterol is a silent killer – it does not present itself through symptoms that you can observe. The best way to know if your cholesterol level is healthy is by going for screening.
Blood testing services for cholesterol screening are available at GP clinics. If you are a Singapore citizen, you can check your eligibility for subsidised screening at CHAS GP clinics under the National Screen for Life programme.
This article is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.