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Suffering high cholesterol? It could be in your genes.

Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a genetic disorder characterized by high levels of cholesterol in the blood. People with FH have a gene mutation that interferes with clearing cholesterol from the body. As a result, affected individuals tend to accumulate low density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol) which builds up in the walls of the arteries, causing hardening of arteries, also known as atherosclerosis. Now when FH is left untreated, it can result in early heart attacks and heart diseases in adults as well as young adults and children.

When did you last have your cholesterol checked?

According to FH experts, the condition is found in 1 of 250 people of all ethnicities and races. Meaning it can pretty much affect anyone. And although it is a life-threatening condition, it is highly underdiagnosed because, to start, we do not know much about the condition.

High cholesterol often has no visible symptoms until there is a visible consequence; and we hardly associate high cholesterol with a genetic cause. These then mirror the general health seeking behaviour where people hardly do the regular health checks. Further, we assume that if we observe a certain lifestyle –diet and physical activity- then we couldn’t possibly have high cholesterol.

The good news is that FH can be diagnosed through a test and taking the family history of early cardiovascular disease. This therefore means it is important to know the medical conditions experienced in your close families.

FH is manageable through medicine and a healthy lifestyle.

Research is still ongoing on the effective diet for managing FH. New evidence according to the study: Dietary Recommendations for Familial Hypercholesterolaemia: an Evidence-Free Zone, suggests that a low carbohydrate diet could be effective for individuals who show cardiovascular risk factors which exhibits as carbohydrate intolerance or metabolic syndrome.  

Generally however, a healthy plant-based diet that provides adequate portions of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy protein and healthy oils, plus physical activity is good for the heart.

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Christine Nderitu

As a licensed Nutritionist and Public Health Practitioner, Christine, helps people lead healthy lifestyles through education and behaviour change practices that are simple and practical. Her area of expertise lies not just in nutrition management but in health education and promotion in HIV/AIDS, Adolescent Health, Maternal and Child Health as well as Non-Communicable Diseases, which she has engaged in for a decade. She is also a columnist in a leading local Daily. Christine has a keen interest in Non-Communicable Diseases prevention and control. She feels that the world needs more stories that celebrate and normalize desired (good) behaviour, and humanity. “We have many preventable and often manmade public health issues today.”