High cholesterol is one of the so-called silent killers. It has visible signs and symptoms in and of itself and so unless there is a blood test, it is difficult to know you have it. However, it can lead to heart attack, which itself is a big symptom that there is a problem. While statin drugs are the mainstay of modern medicine for lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, they may be doing more harm than good, according to a new study.
I think it is fair to assume that most people understand now that there are two types of cholesterol in the body. The “good” HDL and the “bad” LDL kinds. Overall, cholesterol is naturally produced by the liver and plays an important role in the body. It helps build new cells, insulates nerves and produces hormones. Cholesterol also comes from the food we eat, such as animal-based products (meat and dairy). When too much cholesterol builds up in the arteries, it can lead to heart disease and heart attack.
How cholesterol builds up
It has been hypothesized for a long time that the cause of atherosclerosis, build-up of cholesterol in the arteries, was caused by the ingested cholesterol found in high fat foods, such as red meat and dairy products like milk, eggs and cheese.
A more recent hypothesis is that cholesterol is always in the body and does not cause much harm. However, when the body has systemic inflammation, it is the inflammation that cholesterol sticks to, thus causing narrowing and clogging of arteries. It has been found that what causes the low grade, systemic inflammation is processed foods and transfatty acids, like hydrogenated oils, used to keep processed foods “shelf stable” in stores.
Latest study on statins
Among the primary methods used to lower cholesterol is a class of drugs known as statins. These drugs work to block the work of the chemicals in the liver that help make cholesterol. From a natural perspective, statins are dangerous because they affect the normal functioning of the body; they keep it from producing cholesterol which is necessary for many healthy functions. Well, it took studies for the medical community to take note of this seemingly obvious fact. I am glad the studies were done.
The journal Atherosclerosis recently published the result of a new study that found the use of statins to significantly increase coronary artery calcification. The study found that “statin use is associated with an increased prevalence and extent of coronary plaques possessing calcium.” Furthermore, it found that those taking statins to lower cholesterol had a 52 percent greater prevalence and extent of calcium containing coronary arterial plaque. This has potentially deadly effects because once the calcification is in place, the arterial opening cannot continue to expand to allow for increased blood flow. Statins also increase risk of type 2 diabetes, deplete heart muscle of Coq10, weaken muscles and can cause vascular weakening.
Natural solutions are best
When it comes to lowering cholesterol build up, natural solutions are the most gentle and are effective. Here are some of the tried and true solutions that have been studies and observed for lowering cholesterol.
Diet and exercise– It is well established that simply losing weight has cholesterol lessening effects. Much of this success could be due to the nature of how weight is lost: through exercise and diet. Exercise metabolizes fats in the body and a healthy diet should decrease inflammation-causing processed foods from entering your body.
A diet high in soluble fiber is also associated with a decrease in cholesterol, as fiber reduces the absorption of LDL in the bloodstream. 5-10 grams daily does the trick, and foods like oat-based cereals, lentils, flax, beans, phsyllium, apples, oranges, prunes, blueberries, strawberries, cucumber, celery and carrots are perfect ways to increase fiber naturally.
Omega-3 fatty acids—The omega 3s help increase the HDL “good” cholesterol. This is important because HDL helps to shuttle LDL through the body for processing. Omega-3s can be increased via supplementation and consuming fish, especially wild salmon, albacore, halibut, herring and sardines two to three times per week.
Olive oil and nuts—Olive oil helps reduce LDL cholesterol and nuts, especially walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds are rich in polyunsaturated fat and help reduce cholesterol while maintaining vascular health.
Bergamot extract—The oil from bergamot produces the unique flavor found in Earl Grey tea. It is an antioxidant with high levels of flavonoids that protect cells from oxidation and free-radical damage. In the body, it blocks an essential enzyme in the production of cholesterol. In studies, participants took 500-mg doses of citrus bergamot polyphenolic extract for 30 days resulting in 40 percent increases in HDL, decreases in blood triglycerides and a nearly 40 percent decrease in LDL.
Red yeast rice—Red yeast rice has gotten a lot of press because it is the natural source of a statin, cholesterol-lowering drug; without the side effects. A study published in the June 16, 2009, issue of the Annals of Internal Medicines showed that a red rice yeast supplement worked as well as a statin prescription to lower LDL. Red yeast rice retains a natural mixture of statins. That variety is believed to be the reason this natural source does not cause the same debilitating side effects as the drugs.
Overall, there are many natural ways to reduce bad cholesterol and not prevent it from clogging your arteries. If you are currently taking a statin drug, please discuss with your physician your ability to change your lifestyle a bit to embrace the natural solutions while weaning off the statin. And if you don’t have high cholesterol, including these natural solutions into your daily life will just improve your health overall.