Changing behaviour can avoid life-long cholesterol medication
WHEN diagnosed with high bloodcholesterol levels, patients need the chance to modify their lifestyle before being prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications, according to the results of a study published in the August issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings (2007;82(8):951-7).
Researchers found some patients were placed on medication before they’d had the chance to try lifestyle changes, with some saying they would definitely have preferred the opportunity to make changes to diet and exercise habits. As a result of the findings, the researchers recommended more GPs consider suggesting lifestyle changes before prescribing cholesterol-lowering medication.
To qualify for cholesterol-lowering medication through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in Australia, patients not classified as fitting into high-risk categories are required to undergo six weeks of dietary therapy and lifestyle change before being prescribed drugs.
This is considered an appropriate period in which GPs can assess whether a person is able to change their lifestyle, and whether these changes will have an impact for them individually. We see many clients highly motivated to change and improve their cholesterol level in order to avoid medication life-long. This six-week period is crucial.
A significant body of evidence demonstrates the considerable impact dietary changes can have on a person’s cholesterol level. Research by a group in Canada published in the AmericanJournalofClinical Nutrition shows that by combining key dietary recommendations made for cholesterol lowering, an individual can reduce blood cholesterol levels by up to 30 per cent — a similar result to statin medication (2005;81(2):380-7).
Factors required difference are:
Eat less saturated and trans fats — high amounts of these fats are found in deep-fried takeaway foods, cakes, biscuits, pastries, fatty meats and full-cream dairy products.
Include small amounts of foods rich in unsaturated fats — appropriate choices in-
to make this
of clude avocado, nuts, seeds, olive, vegetable and seed oils.
Eat foods that contain plant sterols — these include certain margarine spreads, milks and yoghurts that have high levels of plant sterols added. Aim for 2-3 serves of these foods a day.
Eat more soluble fibre — found in oats, psyllium, legumes, stone fruits, berries, beetroot and wholegrains.
Include plant sources of omega-3 fats — found in flaxseed, linseed, canola oil and walnuts.
Eat a handful of raw or dry roasted nuts five times a week.
Include soy foods regularly — appropriate choices include soy milk, soy yoghurt, tofu, tempeh and soy beans.
Other aspects of lifestyle that can also make a significant difference to cholesterol levels include losing weight if you are overweight, giving up smoking, keeping active and managing stress.
If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, discuss with your GP the possibility of a six-week trial to change your diet, improve lifestyle and reduce your level before commencing cholesterol-lowering medication.
The magnitude of difference dietary changes can make is often under-estimated, and if you’re a motivated individual who is committed to long-term lifestyle changes, you may be surprised to see just what a difference diet can make to your health. Sharon Natoli is an accredited dietitian and director of Food & Nutrition Australia