Reducing cholesterol for heart health

HIGH cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, one of the leading causes of death among Malaysians.

One in two adult Malaysians has high cholesterol with about half of them under the age of 40. Despite this alarming figure, four out of

five people with high cholesterol are unaware of their status.

Dr Rafidah Abu Bakar, consultant cardiologist at the National Heart Institute (IJN) says one may picture men, the elderly or the overweight when it comes to heart disease due to high cholesterol, but nothing could be further from the truth.

“High cholesterol does not discriminate. It affects everyone – regardless of age, gender, body size or even fitness level. Therefore, challenging misconceptions around high cholesterol is crucial and women are equally at risk as men, people who are not overweight are just as susceptible, and young people are similarly vulnerable.”

Unfortunately, high cholesterol has no signs or symptoms and most of the time the discovery is made during an emergency case she adds.

It’s a misconception that cholesterol affects only men or the elderly. Picture from: Created by Katemangostar –

Two-time hockey Olympian Ahmad Fadzil Zainal, who made headlines early this year for his public appeal for funds to cover his bypass surgery at IJN, can attest to this reality.

He was diagnosed with three clogged arteries and even underwent an angioplasty that was unsuccessful.

“My diagnosis came as a surprise to me because it is a condition commonly – and mistakenly associated with people who don’t look fit. However, the experience has taught me to take better care of my heart and my health in general,” he says.

Foong Pui Hing, senior principal dietitian at IJN, explains that cholesterol plays an essential role in the body which includes producing hormones, building cell membranes and forming vitamin D.

“Cholesterol in food from animal products has only a small effect on LDL or bad cholesterol in the blood. However, saturated and transfats in food causes a much greater increase in LDL cholesterol.”

In contrast, replacing them with healthier fats in the diet, namely polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats helps to decrease LDL-cholesterol.

Besides this, an adequate intake of fibre, about 20-30g daily from fruits, vegetables and wholegrains also helps to reduce LDL-cholesterol she explains.

Another way to block the absorption of bad cholesterol into our system is by consuming plant sterols, which are an all-natural substance occurring in plants says Nurul Iliani Ahmad, nutritionist at Nestlé (Malaysia) Berhad.

Plant sterols have a similar molecular composition to cholesterol—they work by mimicking cholesterol so that both have to compete for absorption into the body. It essentially “blocks” cholesterol from being absorbed, while the excess cholesterol in the system is excreted from the body as waste.

Making diet modifications is crucial for heart health. Picture from: Created by Freepik.

“For plant sterols to be effective in reducing cholesterol, you would need to consume 1.2 grams of plant sterols a day she says.


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