Updated 31 July 2014

Boland town cuts cholesterol by 24% in 21 days

Could you have high cholesterol and not know it? Residents of a small town in the Western Cape have shown the nation that it's possible to reduce your cholesterol count by 24% in 21 days.

Within every hour in South Africa, five people have heart attacks, 10 people have strokes and 10 people die from heart disease and stroke, the Heart & Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) reports.

Sadly, 80% of these deaths in individuals under the age of 60, are preventable through a healthy balanced diet, regular exercise and avoiding smoking. These premature deaths are expected to increase by 41% by 2030.

Even sadder, is the fact that many people have no idea what their cholesterol levels are and that they could potentially be walking around at risk of heart disease and stroke.

Read: The risk factors for heart disease

Villiersdorp residents show their heart

The residents of Villiersdorp, a small town in the Western Cape, recently decided to tackle their health by coming together to lower their cholesterol and get heart healthy in the Flora 21 Day Cholesterol Challenge.

The initiative, to test and lower a community‘s cholesterol levels with a lifestyle programme, was designed to dramatically improve heart health within 21 days.  Those that participated have made South African history as it’s the first time that an initiative like this has taken place in South Africa. 

Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in South Africa. "The sad statistic of South Africans is that 1 in 4 people die of cardio vascular disease of which 80% are preventable," states Heart and Stroke Foundation SA CEO Dr Vash Mungal-Singh. "That is why initiatives like this are so important to educate the nation on knowing their cholesterol number and actively doing something about it."

Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is needed for certain essential functions in the body, such as the proper functioning of hormones which control many body processes. However, excessive cholesterol levels in the blood can be dangerous, as it can lead to cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and stroke, in the long run.

Although some people have a greater risk of high cholesterol levels, because of a genetic predisposition, most cholesterol problems are due to poor lifestyle choices such as diets high in saturated and trans fats, lack of exercise and smoking.

Read: Cholesterol explained

Know your number

Of the 2 000 Villiersdorp residents who initially had their cholesterol tested, 594 (30%) discovered they were in the high risk category; and 41% of those who tested high, had never had their levels checked before.

(It is recommended that your total cholesterol level should be less than 5 mmol/l.)

“Considering that elevated cholesterol is the key risk factor in heart disease, having one’s levels tested and knowing your number is the necessary first step to living a long and healthy life,” comments Flora marketing director Susan Stringer.

A total of 164 of the high risk candidates volunteered for Flora’s 21 day cholesterol lowering challenge, which set out to prove that including a 25g daily intake of Flora Pro Activ as part of a healthy eating plan, combined with exercise and informed lifestyle choices, can lower cholesterol levels by up to 15% in three weeks, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.

The initial test results showed that of the 40% high risk candidates, only 6% were aware that they were at risk due to a family history of high cholesterol, and over 80% had children of their own who could have the high cholesterol gene passed onto them. “The campaign reveals the urgent responsibility we all have to get our cholesterol checked and the importance of educating our children on healthy lifestyle choices,” comments Stringer.

Read: Understanding the cholesterol numbers

From 6.1 down to 4.6 mmol/l

After 21 days, 18 walks, 12 heart conditioning classes, 3 cooking demos, nutritional consultations, a Sokkie dance evening and a healthy supply of Flora pro.activ, 120 participants had their cholesterol levels tested again on 13 February 2014 by independent registered nurses, and results show the genuine effect of lifestyle change.   

Some of the key findings include:

 - The average cholesterol of those who completed the challenge on day 1 of the challenge was 6.1mmol/l and after the 21 day challenge is now 4.6mmol/l - a 24% reduction
 - 96% (116 out of 120 participants) reduced their cholesterol versus 95% in Greece Symi, 84% in Greece Vonitsa, 80% in ‘Spain’ , and 84% in Australia

 “Each percentile drop can be seen as one step closer to a healthier heart so we are delighted at these results” comments Stringer.

Says Sidney Ntantiso, a Villiersdorp policeman who participated in the challenge: “I encourage all South Africans to get their cholesterol tested regularly as it is does not have obvious symptoms but has fatal side effects. Before the 21 Day Cholesterol Challenge I had no idea that I had an elevated cholesterol level, to my dismay it was a dangerous 7mmol/l.

"I am truly grateful that Flora was able to make me aware of this condition and educate me on how to improve my lifestyle to maintain a healthy cholesterol level."

Read: Top 10 foods that lower cholesterol

Keeping up the good work

Commenting on what the challenge meant to him, 58 year old participant, Douw Steyn said: “Going forward I will continue to make my health a priority and implement all the knowledge that I’ve gained from this challenge.

"I have also decided along with quite a few residents that we will not just stop after the 21 Day Cholesterol Challenge comes to an end, but that we will continue with our daily walks and sign up to continue with the exercise classes.”

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Read more:
High cholesterol worse for men
Know your numbers
Quiz: is your diet cholesterol-friendly?


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