Reduce Cholesterol Naturally
Dr. Gordon Chang
We are bombarded daily with media reports on high cholesterol, its dangers, and warnings about health consequences, and so on, yet what we don’t hear is that cholesterol is a vital nutrient for healthy body function. It is used by the body in the manufacture of hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone, and it is also used in myelin sheath formation (the membranous covering for nerves). The liver makes approximately ninety percent of the body’s daily cholesterol requirement while the remaining ten percent is obtained from dietary sources. The problem with cholesterol arises when we have too much cholesterol circulating through our veins and arteries. Let’s get to the heart of the matter…
HDL vs. LDL
Cholesterol is usually transported around the body in the blood bound to different proteins. There are two types of protein called HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) or LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein). High LDL, in conjunction with a low HDL has been associated with atherosclerotic plaque formation and hence has been linked to cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerotic plaque formation on the arterial walls causes hardening and narrowing of the arteries which may lead to heart attack and stroke.
Conversely, HDL will carry the cholesterol in the blood and from artery walls to the liver, where it is then metabolized and excreted through the bile. Therefore, you need to have a high HDL cholesterol level (HDL-C) and a low LDL (LDL-C) cholesterol level to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Since some people are confused by the two varieties of cholesterol, a simple mnemonic to use is to equate LDL with LUMPY plaque deposits and HDL with HEALTHY cholesterol levels.
The human body requires approximately ten percent of its daily cholesterol requirements from dietary sources; therefore a treatment strategy for high cholesterol has been to control the intake of cholesterol. What really affects blood cholesterol is the quantity and type of fat (saturated and hydrogenated fats) we consume. Therefore, you need to know which foods contain saturated and hydrogenated fats if you want to lower your blood cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is found in all animal products but some (e.g. egg yolks and red meats) are higher in cholesterol than others (e.g. fish and chicken), therefore, by changing your dietary habits even slightly you can decrease your intake of cholesterol. Increasing your intake of fiber has also been shown to decrease blood cholesterol.
The Role of Fibre and Other Natural Ingredients
Fibre is known to bind dietary fat and cholesterol in the gut and thus inhibit their absorption by the body. Increasing your intake of green leafy vegetables and increasing your level of exercise have been shown to have dramatic effects on blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. People who exercise have been found to have higher levels of HDL and lower levels of LDL as well as lower levels of total blood cholesterol.
There are several naturally occurring substances that have been shown to significantly decrease blood cholesterol levels. Some of these include guggul, niacin, garlic, hawthorn, policosanol, and plant sterols.
Guggul (guggulipids) is an extract of an Indian herb, Commiphora mukul. Guggul extract has been shown in several clinical studies to significantly decrease total blood cholesterol levels as well as LDL levels. Results were seen within 4 to 12 weeks. More importantly there were no side effects when the standardized extract was used.
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, has long been known to be as effective as many prescribed drugs used in the treatment of high cholesterol levels. However, there is a problem with niacin; if used at a high enough dosage to reduce cholesterol, there is a very real statistical chance of causing damage to the liver, in addition to the well-known effect of skin flushing (redness). These side effects make niacin unacceptable as a cholesterol lowering supplement. Fortunately, Inositol Hexanicotinate, which is chemically similar to niacin, provides the cholesterol lowering benefits of niacin without the risk of liver damage or flushing. In fact long term studies indicate that Inositol Hexanicotinate is free of any serious side effects other than the occasional individual suffering from mild gastrointestinal upset.
Policosanol is a mixture of long chain aliphatic alcohols. It was originally extracted from sugar cane waxes, but is now available from several other natural sources. Policosanol, in dosages that range from 5-20 mg per day, has been shown to significantly decrease total cholesterol levels by fifteen to thirty percent within four weeks. In addition, it also increases HDL (good cholesterol) and with no significant side effects reported in human and animal studies.
Garlic (Allium sativa) is another herb that has shown cholesterol lowering effects, if taken in sufficient quantities. Of course, garlic can also have negative social effects if taken in sufficient quantities, so many prefer to use other substances to lower their cholesterol.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) has been shown to decrease blood cholesterol as well as reduce blood pressure thus eliminating one of the major contributing factors to cardiovascular disease. Free radicals, naturally occurring chemical agents produced by life processes, have been shown to damage the blood vessels and lead to vascular disease. Hawthorn contains anti-oxidants, specifically rutin and hyperin, which quench these damaging free radicals before they have a chance to damage the blood vessels.
Plant sterols are also known to significantly decrease cholesterol levels. However, to see this effect individuals have to consume between 4-10 grams of plant sterols. It is believed that plant sterols work to decrease blood cholesterol levels by competing with dietary cholesterol for absorption.
Utilizing Diet and Exercise to Lower Cholesterol
First and foremost, make smarter dietary choices. Eat lean meat (leanest cuts of beef, pork and veal, chicken or other fowl without the skin, wild game). Trim excess fat from your meats before cooking and skip the fatty condiments like gravies and sauces -- use fresh herbs and spices for flavourings and avoid processed high fat and high carbohydrate preparations. Watch the size of your portions because even lean cuts of meat contain fat. Increase your consumption of fish to 2 or 3 times per week and eat at least 1 or 2 vegetarian meals per week, where the protein comes from legumes (beans, peas, lentils, etc.).
Eat low-fat milk products. For example: milk and yogurt with two percent or less milk fat (M.F.), and cheese with less than twenty percent M.F.
Choose flax or hemp seed oils, olive or sunflower oil, fatty fish (salmon, trout, tuna, sardines and mackerel), nuts and seeds for healthier fats. Eat them all in moderation since excessive consumption of fats can lead to weight gain and do not cook with flax or hemp seed oils as heating these oils cause them to become unhealthy.
Use cooking methods requiring little or no additional fat: oven bake, grill, microwave or cook in a non-stick fry pan, steam, boil, poach or braise.
Avoid foods containing saturated or hydrogenated fats since they can increase the bad blood cholesterol (LDL’s) and reduce the good cholesterol (HDL’s). Consumption of these foods should be kept to a minimum:
- Fried or breaded foods
- Donuts, cookies, commercially made muffins
- Butter, cream
- Deli meats (bologna, pepperoni, salami, sausage, etc.)
- Potato and Snack Chips, French Fries
- Chocolates, ice cream
- Croissants, pastry
- Meat fat or chicken fat
- Coconut oil and palm oils, hydrogenated oils and margarines, shortening, lard
Choose foods with more fibre. Soluble fibre can help reduce overall blood cholesterol and LDL’s. Soluble fiber is found primarily in legumes (chick peas, lentils, white and red beans), fruit, barley, linseeds, oat bran, oatmeal, brown rice and psyllium. Use salt or salty foods sparingly to keep your blood pressure under control.
The Role of Antioxidants
Increase your intake of anti-oxidants like beta-carotene (a vitamin A precursor), vitamins C and E, soy products, green or black tea. Anti-oxidants are believed to slow down the development of atherosclerosis. Beta-carotene and vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits and in red, orange and dark green vegetables. Vitamin E is found mainly in cold-pressed oils and nuts.
Consult with your physician or health care practitioner to determine a regular and appropriate exercise program to help lower your blood cholesterol while helping you maintain a healthy weight.
In summary, by using intelligent supplementation strategies in combination with a well-advised diet and an exercise program you may find that you get a surprising and beneficial response in both the overall level of your cholesterol, as well as a beneficial shift in the ratio of HDL/LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream.
Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2006-2018 Omega Alpha Pharmaceuticals Inc. Published with permission. Dr. Gordon Chang holds a Ph.D. in Physiology and Biomedical engineering from the University of Toronto and has years of post-doctoral experience in biochemistry.