High cholesterol: The sign on your toenails that indicates dangerously high levels

This Morning's Dr Chris discusses the signs of high cholesterol

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Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by your liver that performs many important roles in the body, such as helping your metabolism to work efficiently. Although your body needs cholesterol to function, having too much of it can restrict the blood supply to important organs. Over time, this can raise the risk of heart disease.

When high cholesterol levels restrict blood supply to the legs, it is known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

Many people with PAD have no symptoms.

“However, some develop a painful ache in their legs when they walk, which usually disappears after a few minutes’ rest,” notes the NHS.

According to the health body, another telltale sign is brittle, slow-growing toenails.

Other telltale signs include:

  • Hair loss on your legs and feet
  • Numbness or weakness in the legs
  • Ulcers (open sores) on your feet and legs, which do not heal
  • Changing skin colour on your legs, such as turning pale or blue
  • Shiny skin
  • In men, erectile dysfunction
  • The muscles in your legs shrinking (wasting).

How high cholesterol is diagnosed

To stop high cholesterol from causing complications such as PAD, it is vital to get a formal diagnosis.

You can only find out if you have it from a blood test.

“Your GP might suggest having a test if they think your cholesterol level could be high,” explains the NHS.

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“This may be because of your age, weight or another condition you have (like high blood pressure or diabetes).”

How to lower high cholesterol

There are two important pills of cholesterol control – diet and exercise.

A few small changes to your diet can make a big difference to your cholesterol level.

“To help lower your cholesterol you don’t need to avoid fats altogether. You should cut down on foods high in saturated fat and replace them with food high in unsaturated fat like vegetable oils (olive, rapeseed and sunflower oil), nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish,” advises the Association of UK Dietitians.

Saturated fats are found in many foods, both sweet and savoury. Most of them come from animal sources, including meat and dairy products.

In addition to improving your diet, regular exercise can improve your cholesterol levels.

According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol.

HDL cholesterol works by flushing out LDL cholesterol – the “bad” cholesterol – from your blood.

According to UK guidelines, adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of intense activity every week.

If you can do more that’s even better.

“One way of reaching 150 minutes a week is by being active for 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week,” notes cholesterol charity Heart UK.

Moderate intensity activity means you get your heart rate up and you’re breathing harder, but you shouldn’t be out of breath. Walking, jogging, swimming, cycling and dancing are all good choices.

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