Cholesterol is a fatty substance vital for the normal functioning of the body, but having excessively high amounts in the blood can cause serious health problems. When there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it can clog up the major blood vessels supplying the heart. This leads to a condition called coronary heart disease, which is the leading cause of heart attacks. Heart attacks can happen when deposits of cholesterol in the blood vessels burst, causing a blood clot to develop.
The blood clot may then block the supply of blood to the heart, triggering a heart attack.
There are two types of cholesterol, known as ‘good’ or HDL cholesterol and ‘bad’ or LDL cholesterol.
HDL carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it’s either broken down or passed out of the body as a waste product. The higher the levels of HDL, the better.
LDL carries cholesterol to the cells that need it, but if there’s too much cholesterol for the cells to use, it can build up in the artery walls, causing heart disease.
People with high cholesterol can lower it by following a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat and contains foods or supplements that can lower cholesterol levels.
One supplement that can help to do this is a type of fibre called beta glucan.
When you eat beta glucan, it forms a gel which binds to cholesterol and bile in the intestines. Bile is made from cholesterol.
This helps limit the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed from the gut into the blood.
The liver then has to take more cholesterol out of the blood to make more bile, which also lowers cholesterol.
Beta glucan can be taken as a supplement sold in health shops, and is also found in grains like oats and barley.
Wholegrains are a better source of beta-glucans than refined grains, as beta glucans are found in the outer layer of the grain.
When grains are refined, for example to make white bread and white pasta, the outer layer is removed, meaning they lose some of the nutrients.
Heart UK recommends eating around two to four portions of oat-based products or barley per day.
This will give you around 3g of beta glucans, which should help to lower cholesterol.
“There are several foods which are not just part of a healthy diet, they actively help to lower your cholesterol too,” said Heart UK.
“Try to eat some of these every day. The more you add to your diet, the more they will lower your cholesterol, especially if you cut down on saturated fat as well.”