High levels of cholesterol in the blood are one of the many risk factors for serious future health problems. Too much cholesterol can increase the chances of developing heart disease (including possibly fatal heart attacks) and stroke. By inhibiting circulation, too much of this substance can also cause gallstones, impotence, high blood pressure, and loss of mental acuity.
Cholesterol isn't all bad, however. Your body requires it in moderation for the proper function of cells, nerves, and hormones. It is an essential component of every cell in your body, and life without it would be impossible. To distribute cholesterol throughout the body, substances called lipoproteins transport it in the blood. One class of lipoproteins, called low-density lipoproteins, or LDLs for short, carries cholesterol from the liver, where it is produced, to the cells that need it. Then another kind of lipoprotein, called high-density lipoproteins, or HDLs, picks up the excess cholesterol from the cells and takes it back to the liver, where it is broken down and excreted from the body or reprocessed.
Under normal conditions, the lipoproteins keep cholesterol levels in balance. But this carefully calibrated system can be overtaxed when the body creates more cholesterol than HDL can sweep away. After the cells take what they need, the existing HDLs remove what they can, and the extra cholesterol simply remains in the blood. Then if cholesterol becomes oxidized (especially LDL cholesterol) and attaches to the artery walls, it sets the stage for inflammation of the arteries. This chronic inflammation contributes to further buildup and deposition of cholesterol and plaque on the interior walls of the arteries. We call this buildup, which narrows the arteries and limits the amount of blood that can pass through them, arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Arteriosclerosis is the first stage of heart disease; when left untreated, it will lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Elevated cholesterol levels are often caused by the standard Western diet, which relies heavily on animal products, saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates. It can also be caused by heredity conditions or preexisting diseases like diabetes and insulin resistance, or syndrome X. Although, in these cases, diet usually plays a role as well. It stands to reason, then, that high cholesterol can often be treated with dietary changes and exercise. Specific supplements discussed in this section are also excellent non-pharmacological ways to normalize cholesterol levels. Stress reduction has a beneficial effect as well. It is strongly suggested that you employ these natural strategies before trying any of the cholesterol-lowering medications on the market. These drugs, while effective at reducing cholesterol, are potentially toxic to the liver and may cause nutritional deficiencies. While they may be necessary in some cases, many doctors prescribe them as a matter of routine - often because they're afraid that their patients won't make the lifestyle changes that can lower cholesterol naturally. If your doctor wants to prescribe a cholesterol-lowering agent for you, explain to him or her that you're willing to embark on a new regimen in the hopes of avoiding a lifelong dependency on drugs. Whatever your decision, be sure that it is based on your physician's and your analysis of your individual situation.
SYMPTOMS: Often, there are no symptoms of high cholesterol, so it's important to have your doctor perform a blood analysis regularly. One sign of high cholesterol can be a buildup of cholesterol rings on the skin under the eyes. Make an appointment if cholesterol or heart problems run in your family, or if you experience any of the following: Dizziness, difficulty breathing after minor exertion, mental confusion or dullness and circulatory problems.
CAUSES: Poor diet, especially one high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates, inactivity, hereditary tendency to high cholesterol, diabetes, insulin resistance, hypothyroidism and stress.
Just as a poor diet is a primary cause of high cholesterol, dietary changes are one of the best ways to treat it. One major key to balancing cholesterol levels is to consume a diet that's high in fiber. This means increasing the amount of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains in the diet. Soluble fiber is a great choice. This type of fiber does not dissolve in water and binds cholesterol as it passes through the digestive tract. Oat bran is a great example of soluble fiber, and more than twenty studies show that it reduces total and LDL cholesterol when consumed on a daily basis. One bowl of oatmeal can lower cholesterol levels between 8 and 23 percent in just three weeks. Pectin, found in the skin of apples, is also effective, as is ground flaxseeds.
The reduction of fats in the diet is important as well. In addition, eating less sugar products and refined carbohydrates can make all the difference in the world for some people's cholesterol levels. Finally, many people with diabetes and insulin resistance find that cutting down on simple carbohydrates and increasing the consumption of protein foods can dramatically reduce cholesterol levels
Soluble fiber can dramatically decrease cholesterol levels. Oats, brown rice, beans, and fruits are all good sources; have some at every meal. For breakfast, you might like to have a bowl of hot oatmeal, flavored with soy milk, bananas, and a little molasses, and an orange or a half grapefruit on the side. The molecules in cholesterol are highly vulnerable to damage by free radicals. Reduce your risk of developing heart disease and other serious degenerative illness by increasing your consumption of deeply colored fruits and vegetables. Eat a wide variety for the broadest protection, and try for at least five raw or lightly cooked servings every day. Not all fats are forbidden to people with elevated cholesterol. Essential fatty acids actually have a heart-protecting effect, so be sure to incorporate cold-water fish like salmon or mackerel into your meals several times a week.
Flaxseeds are another good source of EFAs; you can sprinkle them over salads or use the oil as a dressing.
Olive oil increases levels of HDL (the "good cholesterol). The uses for this fruity oil are numerous: it can enrich pasta sauces, or you can add a little to a skillet and saute your favorite vegetables.
Garlic and onions are savory complements to vegetarian meals and they help lower LDL cholesterol while raising HDL.
Add spices to your meals, such as cayenne, basil, rosemary, and oregano. These spices are rich in antioxidants to prevent cholesterol oxidation.
Nuts, such as walnuts, have been shown to reduce cholesterol and trigylceride levels. Eat a handful daily.
Food to Avoid
Fats that are saturated, hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated tend to increase cholesterol levels. By avoiding foods that contain the bad fats, you can decrease cholesterol and improve your cardiovascular health. Fried foods, sweet baked goods, and most crackers are all dangerously full of fats. Even margarine and vegetable shortening, items that cholesterol patients often use as substitutes for butter and lard-are high in partially hydrogenated fats, which are even deadlier than the saturated kind.
Sugar and alcohol stimulate the liver to produce more cholesterol. Avoid alcoholic beverages and all sources of refined sugar, including sodas, candy, and low-fat baked goods.
An excess consumption of caffeine has been linked to high cholesterol. You don't need to cut out your coffee or black tea completely-just keep your intake down to a cup or two a day. Green tea is a much better choice, as it is rich in antioxidants that have been shown to prevent cholesterol oxidation.
Most people who have high cholesterol levels have been eating toxic foods. Detoxify your body (especially your liver) with a one- to three-day vegetable juice fast.
HIGH CHOLESTEROL SUPER REMEDIES
Pantetheine is a metabolite of vitamin BS that has been shown in studies to reduce total and LDL cholesterol, as well as to increase HDL. It can be particularly effecive for people with diabetes. Take 600 to 900 mg daily.
Soy protein has been shown in studies to reduce total and LDL cholesterol and to increase HDL. Take 25 to 50 grams daily.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is a mushroom extract that reduces cholesterol. Take 800 mg two to three times daily.
Vitamin E prevents LDL oxidation. Take 400 to 800 IV of a mixed blend daily.
Vitamin C reduces total cholesterol and LDL levels and acts to prevent their oxidation.
Chromium reduces total cholesterol and increases HDL lev- els. Take 200 to 400 mcg daily.
Green tea contains potent antioxidants known as polyphenols that reduce cholesterol oxidation. It has also been shown to reduce total cholesterol levels, while increasing good HDL cholesterol.
Know your cholesterol and cardiovascular risk marker levels-all of them. Get regular checkups, and find a doctor who is willing to explain the numbers to you.
Smoking is the number-one risk factor in heart disease. If you smoke and have high cholesterol, you’re in grave danger of having a heart attack. People who smoke must stop immediately; even if you've never picked up the habit but are exposed to secondhand smoke, you must find a cleaner environment in which to live or work.
Exercise lowers LDL levels, while raising those of HDL. Find an activity you enjoy, and pursue it regularly. A brisk thirty-minute walk every day does wonders for almost everyone.
If you have diabetes or hypothyroidism, work with a doctor to keep your disease in check and to devise an individual plan for controlling your cholesterol. Many cholesterol patients are told to lose weight. The dietary suggestions here will help most people take off excess pounds, but if you’re more than twenty pounds overweight, you may need additional help.