Susan Sarandon: Star’s ‘natural’ cholesterol-lowering remedy to avoid ‘serious problems’

This Morning: Phillip demands a gift from Susan Sarandon

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The nine time Emmy Award nominee first shot to fame in the 1970s and was quickly nominated for her first Academy Award for her role in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. One of her most notable films, Thelma and Louise, which was released in 1991, is airing tonight on BBC Four. Away from the screen, Sarandon has been labelled “a model of health” but, in reality, a history of high cholesterol and stroke in her family has meant that the star has had to be extra cautious of keeping her health in check.

Having been on cholesterol-lowering medication for around two years, the star shared a few years ago that she was trying to find more “natural” ways to lower her levels.

Speaking in an interview she shared: “I recently went off [of it] and am trying to use psyllium and other colon cleansers to bring [my cholesterol] down naturally.”

Psyllium has been defined as a soluble fibre used in laxatives, which has been shown to help lower cholesterol moderately. However, it is important to note that colon cleansing is considered by most doctors as an alternative approach not yet supported by scientific study.

One of the other ways in which the actress works to keep her cholesterol at a healthy level is through exercise.

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“I realised that I had to find time for myself and started going to the gym,” she added.

“We [the star and her personal trainer] use exercise balls or play catch with a heavy ball, as opposed to just getting on machines.”

Sarandon also does Pilates when she can, but admits that yoga has been unsuccessful. “I must have type-A personality,” she continued.

“I got so competitive that I hurt myself!”

A leading cholesterol charity, HEART UK explains that it is important for some level of cholesterol to exist in our blood, but too much can lead to “serious health problems” such as heart attacks or stroke.

These high cholesterol levels can be caused by various factors, some controllable and others not.

Lifestyle choices which can lead to high cholesterol levels include:

  • Eating too much saturated fat
  • Smoking
  • Drinking more alcohol than is recommended
  • Not being physically active.

Uncontrollable factors that can lead to high cholesterol levels include inheritance and other genetic conditions. One of the main genetic conditions is known as familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH), which is passed down through families and can lead to heart disease, even in those of a young age.

Other more generic factors that can lead to high cholesterol levels include the following:

  • Being overweight
  • An underactive thyroid gland
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Ageing
  • Stress
  • Menopause
  • Family history.

The NHS explains that cholesterol is carried in the blood by proteins, and when the two substances combine they become lipoproteins. The two main types of lipoproteins are known as high-density (HDL) and low-density (LDL).

The first, HDL, carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver. From there it’s either broken down or passed out of the body as a waste product. For this reason, HDL is referred to as “good cholesterol” and higher levels are better.

The second, LDL, carries cholesterol to the cells that need it. If there’s too much cholesterol for the cells to use it can build up in the artery walls, leading to disease of the arteries. For this reason, LDL is known as “bad cholesterol”.

Too much “bad” cholesterol can cause fatty areas known as plaques to form in the walls of arteries – large blood vessels that carry blood around the body. Over time these plaques become harder and stiffer, making arteries narrower.

This puts individuals at risk of a number of diseases including coronary heart disease, stroke, angina, heart attack, heart failure and vascular dementia. For those who have high cholesterol levels, there may not necessarily be any signs or symptoms, so one of the only ways to find out if cholesterol levels are raised is from a blood test.

It is important to note that if an individual has high cholesterol levels, there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can help to lower levels. Recommended lifestyle changes include:

  • Eating less fatty food
  • Exercising more
  • Stopping smoking
  • Cutting down on alcohol.

Holland and Barrett explain that psyllium husk, as mentioned by Sarandon, is a naturally occurring, plant-derived source of fibre. It’s best known for its potential to improve constipation and reduce cholesterol in the blood. However, any laxative supplement is generally only recommended for short-term use. Instead, eating a healthy diet including various sources of fibre is a better longer term way to lower cholesterol.

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