LDL Too High?

What to eat when your LDL is high and you have IBS

Your body needs cholesterol. In fact, it’s part of you. Cholesterol is found in every cell in the body, in the plasma membrane, the cell’s protective wall, a fluid-like structure that keeps good chemicals in and bad chemicals out. These days, it’s common to hear that if your “LDL is too high,” it’s bad, but that’s an over-simplification of how cholesterol works.

Good Cholesterol v Bad Cholesterol

Cholesterol plays an important role in the cell, aiding the production of sex hormones, building connective tissue and assisting bile production in the liver. Bile salts help the body break down fat, aid digestion, absorb minerals and excrete toxins. Sex hormones regulate many physiological functions including fat storage, bone health and blood flow.

As well as cholesterol, the plasma membrane is a made up of lipids and proteins. The lipids are types of fat that can bond with water-based or fat-based chemicals, and act as gatekeepers, determining what gets in and out of the cell. Too much saturated fat in the diet causes these lipids to be too rigid. Too much polyunsaturated fat may cause them to be too liquid.

Lipoproteins are the molecules that carry fat or lipids around the body. The ratio of protein to lipids in each lipoprotein determines its density. When there is more protein than lipid, it’s a high-density lipoprotein (HDL), while lipoproteins higher in cholesterol and triglycerides (type of fat) are called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL).

LDL particles deliver cholesterol and triglycerides to the cells to fuel important functions like building connective tissue and making hormones. HDL particles carry excess cholesterol to the liver, from where it can be flushed out of the body. Both HDL and LDL play crucial roles in overall physical health.

Cholesterol Confusion

How well these molecules, organs and chemical reactions do their job is heavily determined by environment and influenced by genes. This means you can be genetically predisposed to have high levels of cholesterol but if you eat well and work out it’s possible to offset any negative side effects. It also means that if heart attacks run in your family, it’s more likely to happen to you.

Doctors agree that the first line of attack for treating high cholesterol is a lifestyle change, lowering saturated fat intake, upping exercise and controlling weight, but they offer no guarantee this will work. Or rather, how well it works will depend very much on your family history.

Catching the condition early on is key. One of the early signs of high LDL is fatty deposits ­– called xanthomas – around the tendons in hands, knees, ankles and elbows, and under the skin around the eyes. It may be possible for an ophthalmologist to spot fat deposits in your eyes too.

However, more recent research is changing the cholesterol story, showing that the total number of atherogenic lipoproteins may be a stronger indicator of risk than an LDL cholesterol value. Atherogenic lipoproteins are all the types of fat particles in your blood, come in different sizes and densities, and the theory posits that the higher the number of small lipoproteins, and the longer the time they’re in the body, the greater the risk of heart disease.

Treatment for High Cholesterol

Doctors offer statins as the common treatment for high cholesterol. Statins work by blocking an enzyme that produces cholesterol in the liver, increasing the body’s ability to remove cholesterol from the blood. They’ve been shown to reduce LDL by 50%.

However, the body is a dynamic organ, so once you mess with one function, it has knock-on effects. Use of statin drugs is commonly associated with muscle cramping, fatigue, dark urine, fever and diarrhoea. There are different brands of statins available and each comes with it own set of awful side effects.

The alternative treatment is to work with your body through nutrition and movement. One of the go-to dietary recommendations for people with high LDL is to increase fiber intake because soluble dietary fiber can bind to bile salts in the small intestine and excrete them. But a high fiber diet can cause constipation, a problem for many women with IBS.

When you have IBS, dietary options are more limited. Read down any list of recommended foods to lower LDL and it will include black beans, lima beans, Brussels sprouts, avocados, broccoli, pears, kidney beans, nectarines, barley and oats, all high FODMAP foods that a woman with IBS can’t eat. But that certainly doesn’t mean there are no options.

Heart Health for Women with IBS

Other sources of dietary fiber include carrots, hemp seeds, flax seeds, hazelnuts and turnips, which most women with IBS can eat. Apples and figs are also sources of dietary fiber, and again, some women with IBS will be able to eat them without symptoms.

Fruit are packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals, and though most are off-limits to women with IBS, some berries are not. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and cranberries contain uniquely powerful antioxidants known as anthocyanins that fight inflammation and reduce the risk of heart disease. They also combat cancer, Alzheimers, obesity, fatigue, vision loss and poor memory.

If berries are out for you, try spices like turmeric or ginger. Tumeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory that’s been shown to reduce symptoms of arthritis, diabetes and other diseases. Eating it with black pepper improves its anti-inflammatory function.

Ginger is also a known powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. The research is relatively new in this field but early studies show that ginger is effective in reducing the number of arthogenic lipoproteins in the blood, making it essential in the treatment of cholesterol imbalances.

Ginseng is also known to reduce inflammation in the body, as well as cocoa and dark chocolate. But no matter what you eat, it’s going to work best in tandem with some sort of exercise routine. There’s no shortcut here. Using an exercise program in combination with a variety of healthy whole foods is the best way to take care of your heart.

PRACTICE

Start small. What heart-healthy food can you add to your meals this week?

Published by The Healthy Hashhead

Challenging attitudes to cannabis, nutrition and fitness with conscious questions.

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