Understanding cholesterol, healthy lifestyle choices

National 4 minutes, 15 seconds


IT IS not uncommon to associate certain food with high cholesterol, but do the food we consume significantly increase cholesterol in blood?

According to Health Education Officer at Health Promotion Centre (HPC), the Ministry of Health, Siti Munawwarah Awang Tarif, the influence of dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol is relatively small.

This, she said, is because most circulating cholesterol is of endogenous origin, or self-producing cholesterol from the liver.

Cholesterol is a wax-like substance which belongs to the steroid family. It is essential to life because it is a primary component of cell membranes and a substrate for the synthesis of bile acids, steroid hormones and vitamin D.

Normal cholesterol level is anything under 5mmol/l or under 200 mg/dl. A blood test is the only way to detect the cholesterol level.

Citing an international study conducted in 1992, Siti Munawwarah said, the influence of dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol is relatively small because the liver synthesises cholesterol by itself.

“Only extreme levels of intake (typically high consumption of eggs, shellfish or liver) are likely to have a significant elevating effect,” she said, quoting the study.

The health education officer said that the most common contributing factors to high cholesterol in the blood are self produced by the the liver as well as high intake of cholesterol-producing food such as internal organs or seafood.

In Brunei, no current recommendation on cholesterol intake per day has been placed for the general population. However, she said, according to a study, severe restriction to below 300mg per day is necessary to reduce the cholesterol level in the blood.

Restricting oneself to 300mg/day is equivalent to avoiding most animal products.

She went on to say that foods that are high in cholesterol mostly come from animal origins because plants do not produce cholesterol.

“Internal organs such as liver and offal, fish roe, shellfish, egg yolk and mayonnaise contain high levels of cholesterol,” she said.

She added: “The most important factor is to reduce intake of saturated fats because it contributes to the rise in the cholesterol.”

She said that high cholesterol level in the blood is a contributing factor to health ailments such as gallstone, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and many other non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

“But, the public needs to be reminded that all of the NCDs are behavioural-related diseases,” she said, adding that it is not a one-factor-causing disease.

She underscored the importance of practicing healthy eating at an early age to prevent complications later in life.

Healthy eating comprises a balanced and moderate diet followed by high fibre, low fat, low sugar and low salt diet.

“Daily practice of healthy eating will eventually have a positive impact in one’s life,” she said.

To raise the people’s awareness on this matter, she said, the Ministry of Health through the Health Promotion Centre has conducted various healthy lifestyle programmes targeting different age group.

Educational programmes such talks and lectures targeted towards schoolchildren, working population and the elderly have been continuously carried out by HPC throughout the year.

In addition, the Healthy Lifestyle Clinic programme that targeted to obese population incorporate behavioural change, especially on healthy lifestyle, have shown positive results.

Taking an example, out of 131 clients during the 2014’s programme, 64 per cent of the participants experienced a decrease in their blood cholesterol, while 36 per cent have an increase in their blood cholesterol.

In 2013, a total of 180 people participated in the programme. Of these participants, 67 per cent experienced a decrease in their blood cholesterol, only eight per cent who saw the increase in their blood cholesterol, while 25 per cent had no change in their total blood cholesterol.

One of the participants of the fourth cohort for the 2014 Healthy Lifestyle Clinic, Md Nor Kiflee Hj Hassan, a government retiree, said that during the six-month programme he took part in physical activities to manage weight and attended various briefings where he could learn about how to lower cholesterol level and high-blood pressure.

Back then, Md Nor Kiflee attended the programme twice a week. Upon completing the programme, he was able to maintain his body weight at 81kg from his initial weight of 101 kg.

He signed up for the programme after he had suffered from severe neck pain or stiffness in 2014. Having been examined by a doctor, he was told that his blood pressure and cholesterol level were above normal line.

He often uses the HPC fitness facility or even to participate in any physical activity such as cross-fit training. This habit continues although he has already completed the programme nearly two years ago.

He does not only keep himself motivated to exercise regularly to maintain good health but also makes a conscious decision to consumer nutritious food choices because he wants to enjoy a quality of life with the family, especially his five children.

“I regularly exercise to maintain good health,” said the 51-year-old.

The ministry’s Healthy Lifestyle Clinic programme, which among others, aims to combat obesity in the country, is a holistic approach in changing behaviour and lifestyle that emphasise on the practice of healthy lifestyle throughout life.

The Brunei Times