How Cholesterol Affects Foot Health

How Cholesterol Affects Foot Health

When we hear the word "cholesterol," we immediately think: heart health, diet, and medication. Rarely do we consider the impact high cholesterol can have on our feet. Yet, the connection between cholesterol and foot health is an important aspect of overall well-being that shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Understanding Cholesterol and Its Impact on the Body

Cholesterol, a fat-like substance in your blood, is essential for building healthy cells. However, too much of it, particularly LDL (the "bad" cholesterol), can lead to health issues, including heart disease. While we focus on the heart, cholesterol doesn’t discriminate—it can affect any part of the body, including the feet, through a condition known as peripheral artery disease (PAD).

Primarily, cholesterol build-up can happen at the walls of your arteries. This build up will lead to the formation of plaques that will harden over time and narrow the arteries. Blood flow becomes limited and you will lack the vital amount of oxygen required by organs like your heart and brain.

How Do You Get Too Much Bad Cholesterol?

Several factors can contribute to high levels of LDL cholesterol:

  1. Diet: Eating foods high in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol can raise your LDL cholesterol. These are found in red meat, full-fat dairy products, fried foods, and processed snacks.

  2. Lack of Physical Activity: A sedentary lifestyle can lower your HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or "good" cholesterol) and raise LDL levels. Regular exercise can help improve your cholesterol balance.

  3. Genetics: Familial hypercholesterolemia is a genetic condition predisposing individuals to high cholesterol, regardless of their lifestyle. If you have a family history of having high cholesterol levels then you might want to get yourself checked as well.

  4. Age and Sex: Cholesterol levels naturally rise as you age. Before menopause, women tend to have lower LDL levels than men, but these levels can increase post-menopause. Men can experience an increase in LDL cholesterol beginning in their 20s to 30s. The risk for men becomes much higher around middle age. The sharpest increase in cholesterol levels in men occurs after they hit their 50s.

How do you know if cholesterol is affecting your foot health? 

Symptoms like leg pain while walking, cold feet, changes in foot color, or sores that won’t heal are signs it’s time to talk to a doctor. Individuals experiencing a decrease in the pulse strength in their feet, numbness or weakness, and a noticeable change in walking pattern due to pain or discomfort, may also have high cholesterol levels. 

Screening for high cholesterol and PAD involves simple blood tests and exams that can help you catch these issues early. Early detection can be life-saving as these tests allow for timely implementation of treatment strategies that mitigate the risk of severe complications. 

Are Hypertension and High Cholesterol the Same Thing?

While they are distinctly different conditions, both are significant risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. Hypertension is not a direct sign of high cholesterol but the two often occur together and can exacerbate the other’s effects on cardiovascular health.

  • High Cholesterol: This condition occurs when there's too much LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream, which can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis), narrowing them and making it harder for blood to flow through.
  • Hypertension: This refers to the condition where the blood pressure in the arteries is consistently too high. High blood pressure means that the heart must work harder to pump blood through the body, which can lead to damage to the cardiovascular system over time.

Can I reverse High Cholesterol and Plaque Buildup?

Reversing these conditions is challenging but possible with significant lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medical treatment. Here’s how it can be approached:

Remember: These are just tips and not a treatment plan. Please see your doctor if you are worried about your cholesterol or health!

  1. Dietary Changes
  • Reduce Saturated and Trans Fats: Limiting foods high in saturated fats and avoiding trans fats (food guide below) can lower your cholesterol levels.
  • Increase Soluble Fiber: Foods high in soluble fiber, such as oats, fruits, beans, and vegetables, can help reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream.
  • Add Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s, found in fish like salmon and mackerel and in flaxseeds and walnuts, don't directly lower LDL cholesterol but have heart-health benefits, including reducing blood pressure.

Read more: Easy Diet and Exercise Tips for Heart Health

  1. Physical Activity

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Alternatively, aim for 10,000 steps throughout the day to avoid a sedentary lifestyle. This may sound like a tall task. Remember to meet your body where it’s at and celebrate the small victories! Orange Insoles can help alleviate the extra aches and pains that come with getting your body moving. 

Read more: Running Shoes, Walking Shoes, and Support

  1. Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking can improve your HDL cholesterol level and significantly benefit your heart health.

  1. Limit Alcohol

Moderate your alcohol consumption to help lower your cholesterol levels and improve heart health.

  1. Weight Management

Even a modest weight loss can help reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, while increasing HDL cholesterol levels.

  1. Medication

When lifestyle changes are not enough to lower cholesterol levels, medications such as statins may be prescribed. Statins work by blocking a substance your body needs to make cholesterol, which in turn helps remove cholesterol from your arteries.

Reversing Plaque Buildup

While new plaque buildup can be reduced through the measures mentioned above, truly reversing existing plaque is more complex. Some studies suggest intensive lipid-lowering therapy can lead to some regression of plaque buildup. However, calcified plaque may not be reversible, but its growth can be halted or slowed.

It is best to consult with a medical professional to treat plaque buildup effectively with medication and procedures.

What Food to Avoid?

To manage cholesterol levels, it's recommended to avoid or limit the following:

  • Saturated Fats: Found in red meat, butter, cheese, and other full-fat dairy products.
  • Trans Fats: Often found in fried foods, baked goods (like pastries and cookies), and processed snack foods.
  • High-Cholesterol Foods: Such as fatty cuts of meat, organ meats (like liver), and egg yolks in large quantities.
  • Processed and Fast Foods: Many of these foods contain unhealthy fats and excessive salt, contributing to higher LDL levels.

Eat Right, Sleep Right, Walk Right

By focusing on a holistic approach to health—eating right, sleeping enough, and walking more—you can head towards improved overall well-being. Remember, your feet are your foundation. Honor them with the care and support they deserve, starting with the decisions you make daily that steer you towards a healthy life.

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