Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a genetic disorder and therefore isn’t something you can prevent, but it is a condition you can manage. Eating the right foods to lower cholesterol, exercising regularly, not smoking, controlling your weight and getting medical treatment can help you limit the impact of FH on your heart health.
- Change Your Eating Plan
Focus on reducing the amount of fat in your diet and increasing your intake of fiber will help you use foods to lower cholesterol in your body. Saturated fat and trans fats will raise LDL levels for people with FH. Saturated fats are mainly found in foods that come from animals, such as meat and dairy products. Trans fats are in foods made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, such as margarine, packaged snacks, fast food and baked goods. Eating leaner cuts of meat and eating less of it, switching to low-fat milk and reduced fat cheese, and snacking on fruits or vegetables instead of packaged foods are some simple steps to reduce your intake of saturated and trans fats.
In addition to limiting foods with high cholesterol, you can eat more of certain foods shown to lower cholesterol. Soluble fiber has been shown to lower LDL levels by helping to block cholesterol and fats from being absorbed through the walls of the intestines into the bloodstream. (Source: National Institutes of Health) Getting more soluble fiber in your diet is as easy as eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Exercise Regularly
The American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. You can even get the same health benefits if you break up your workout time into 10 or 15 minute sessions each day throughout the week. Combining aerobic activities like walking, jogging, or swimming with strength training and stretching exercises will strengthen your heart, lower your blood pressure, increase muscle mass and boost your circulation.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight
Obesity or overweight is another known risk factor for heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. While eating foods to lower cholesterol and increasing your physical activity may naturally lead to some weight loss, if you are a person with FH who is also overweight, you may need to develop a more aggressive approach to achieve a healthy weight.
- Stop Smoking
Smoking is another widely recognized risk factor for heart disease. Since people with FH are already at a 20 times higher risk for developing early and aggressive heart disease, they should immediately work to eliminate smoking and limit their exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Get Medical Treatment
Since the underlying cause of your high cholesterol level is genetic, lifestyle changes can usually only go so far to help you control your LDL cholesterol. FH always needs medical attention, so talk to your healthcare provider about a personal treatment plan, including what medications would be appropriate.
For more information about FH and resources to help you understand and manage your condition, contact The FH Foundation, a patient-centered non-profit organization dedicated to education, advocacy and research of Familial Hypercholesterolemia. Call at 626-465-1234 or visit thefhfoundation.org.