Take care of your ticker
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WORLD Heart Day on September 29 will see the culmination of month-long efforts to raise awareness around cardiovascular health.
September is Heart Awareness Month. This year, the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) has driven education and awareness around cholesterol.
According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease (CVD) remained the world’s number one killer with 17.9 million deaths a year.
The HSFSA said in South Africa, CVD caused one one in six deaths, and that every day 225 South Africans died from heart disease and strokes.
Professor Pamela Naidoo, the CEO of the foundation, said with the Covid-19 pandemic, people with non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular disease, were more vulnerable to severe infection.
Added to this, she said raised total cholesterol was a cause of disease burden in both the developed and developing world - as a risk factor for ischemic heart disease and stroke.
The HSFSA said high cholesterol was often under-recognised in South Africa, according to a March 2021 Report by Global Alliance for Patient Access (GAfPA).
In an interview with the POST, Dana Govender, the health promotions manager at the HSFSA, said cholesterol was a soft, fatty substance in the blood.
“It plays an important role in cell membranes, including repairing damaged tissues in the body, manufacturing many hormones and bile for digestion. Most of the cholesterol in the body is produced in the liver and then transported through the bloodstream to the rest of the body.
“Some foods we eat, from animal sources, contain cholesterol, and this is referred to as dietary cholesterol. Certain foods, notably eggs, organ meats, shellfish and red meat in general contain cholesterol. However, dietary cholesterol in food does not typically make a great contribution to blood cholesterol.”
Govender said everyone had cholesterol in their blood, but that too much cholesterol increased the risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.
“High blood cholesterol levels can slowly cause a build-up of cholesterol and other waste products in the inner linings of arteries. If left unchecked, it can eventually form plaques, the thick hard deposits that can narrow arteries and make them less flexible, causing atherosclerosis - thickening or hardening of the arteries. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery that feeds the heart or brain, it can result in a heart attack or stroke.”
Bad cholesterol/ risk factors
Govender said what you eat could affect your LDL (bad) cholesterol. It’s called bad cholesterol because it collects in the walls of your blood vessels.
“Knowing which fats raise LDL cholesterol and which ones don’t, can help you lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Your body naturally produces all the cholesterol you need. Eating foods containing saturated and trans fats causes your body to produce more LDL — raising the level of ’bad’ cholesterol in your blood.”
She said a higher proportion of women than men have elevated cholesterol.
“The risk of having higher cholesterol is particularly high for women who have gone through menopause and hence have lower oestrogen levels. Oestrogen tends to raise levels of good cholesterol.
“Men 45 or older and women 55 or older have a higher risk of high cholesterol and heart disease. Your risk of high cholesterol may increase if a father or brother had high cholesterol or early heart disease (before age 55) or a mother or sister had early heart disease (before age 65).”
Govender said most people with high cholesterol felt healthy and there are usually no warning signs. The only way of knowing is to have a blood test.
But she said there are ways that we can help ourselves.
“Choose healthier fats. Cut down on unhealthy sources of fats high in saturated and trans fats, which can raise cholesterol levels. These can be found in foods such as fatty and processed meats, chicken skin, butter, cream and hard cheeses, coconut or palm oil, pies, pastries, biscuits, crackers, fast foods and deep-fried potato or chips. Replace these with healthier fats rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats such as plant oils, peanut butter, nuts and seeds, avocado and fatty fish.
“Eat high-fibre foods. Soluble fibre, especially helps to lower cholesterol levels and can be found in foods such as oats, lentils, beans, vegetables and fruit.
“Add plant sterols or stanols. When used as part of a healthy diet, plant sterols or stanols can help to lower cholesterol levels by up to 10 to 15% by reducing the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine. This could be provided by sterol-enriched foods such as Flora pro-active.”
The foundation has partnered with various organisations for joint campaigns for CVD prevention, detection and care.