So you go into your doctor and find out your Cholesterol levels are creeping up to a level that may require medical treatment. What does this mean? Why? Cholesterol has been associated with such negative stigma over the past years. However, cholesterol may not be as bad as you think.
Yes, Hypercholesterolemia (high Cholesterol) has been associated with cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the US. But it is important to understand the whole story before immediately taking a cholesterol lowering medication such as a Statin.
First of all, Cholesterol is vital for your survival. It is a fundamental precursor for cell membranes and various hormones and has been found to be protective in the prevention of cancer. Cholesterol is the building block for stress hormones such as Cortisol, Progesterone, Testosterone, and Estrogen. However, too much bad cholesterol (LDL) vs. good cholesterol (HDL) can build up on the vessel walls, affecting blood flow and ultimately can lead to a heart attack.
But what causes this problem in the first place? Is it that we eat too much cholesterol or fat? Usually not! The fact is, cholesterol is produced endogenously (within the body) as well as by plants and animals. When we eat cholesterol rich foods, we digest the fat and utilize it as building blocks for our body and our body’s functions. In fact, ingestion of cholesterol is one of the natural treatments for high cholesterol. Plant sterols from soy, coconuts or other plants have been scientifically proven to lower total cholesterol and promote cholesterol balance (HDL/LDL). However, too much cholesterol from animal sources is not good and can promote inflammation.
So if high cholesterol is not necessarily caused by eating too much fat, then why are so many people taking cholesterol lowering medications?
The real problem is lifestyle choices. STRESS and DIET are culprits that need to be addressed before your doctor considers intervention with a drug like a statin. Doctors call this type of intervention Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC). A good TLC program should involve dietary recommendation, stress reduction, exercise and promoting healthy sleep/wake cycles. A safe and effective TLC program that has gained worldwide popularity is called First Line Therapy (FLT).
There are many proven effective and safe natural treatments with less negative side effects than pharmacological interventions. If you do choose to go this route, make sure that you are being managed by a healthcare provider that is familiar how to use natural therapeutics properly. You can however implement each of the following guidelines to support healthy cholesterol levels.
Eating a diet rich in vegetables. Vegetables are plants and therefore are made up of sterols. Research has shown that those whom eat 2 grams of phytosterols (plant sterols) twice a day will lower cholesterol levels, help with weight loss, lower cholesterol and help regulate blood sugars. Oils are also incredibly important. 2-3 grams per day (in the morning) of a good quality EPA-DHA supplement has also shown great effectiveness at lowering cholesterol levels.
If you do not like supplements, eat fish. If you are a vegetarian, make sure you are getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet (flax oil, evening primrose, borage, etc.). Eating a diet with balanced macronutrients is essential for healthy cholesterol levels.
Red Yeast Rice extract is another wonderful supplements that has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. A safe and effective dose is 500-1000 mg per day with 100mg of CoQ10. Other Vitamins and herbs that have been found to be effective at lowering cholesterol levels are Niacin (B-3), Inositol, Polycosanol, and Gugul gum extract.
Take time for yourself. Meditate, breath, relax and make sure you are getting plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep can fuel a stress response, which can indirectly cause abnormally high cholesterol levels and disrupt many physiological functions that are essential for healthy living. And of course, the same is true for people whom are under chronic stress.
Movement is essential for life. We must move! Exercise may be one of the single most effective interventions for people with hypercholesterolemia as well as those whom wish to prevent it. Exercise not only positively affects lipids but can help regulate blood sugars and hormones which can help with mood (feeling better), menstrual cycles, sleep cycles, and energy levels. I recommend at least 1 hour of exercise 4-5 times per week. Simply walking for an hour per day can be beneficial in supporting healthy cholesterol levels as well as for overall health and wellness.
So before you jump into taking a medication to lower your cholesterol synthetically, ask your doctor if there are other interventions that you can use that are less invasive and have minimal side effects.