Cholesterol is a type of fat that is vital for life. Cholesterol is produced by the liver and also made by most cells in the body. It is carried around in the blood by little ‘couriers’ called lipoproteins. We need blood cholesterol because the body uses it to:
Build the structure of cell membranes
Make hormones like oestrogen, testosterone and adrenal hormones
Help your metabolism work efficiently; for example, cholesterol is essential for your body to produce vitamin D
Produce bile acids, which help the body digest fat and absorb important nutrients.
Outside of what your body produces naturally cholesterol can also be found in certain foods such as meats, dairy products and eggs.
Cholesterol: The Good and the Bad
When it comes to cholesterol, we are interested in two main types of cholesterol: high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. HDL is essentially the ‘good’ form of cholesterol while LDL is the so-called ‘bad’ form of cholesterol. If the ratio of HDL:LDL is out of balance (i.e. not enough HDL, too much LDL), this puts you at increased risk of heart disease. Other tests for lipoprotein A (lp(a)) are often performed and if elevated can signal an heightened cardiac risk for the patient. Lp(a) is genetically determined and is an important test for those with a family history of heart disease to have measured.
Pump-Up Good Cholesterol
The results from a study conducted by The American Heart Association were written up in a paper called ‘The Emerging Cholesterol’.
The benefits of high HDL as “good” cholesterol is that it protects you from heart disease. When it comes to predicting heart disease, HDL is more important than your total cholesterol. If your HDL is high enough, your total cholesterol could be >8 – and your chance of having a heart attack is no higher than the population at large.
This latest information is about the other cholesterol- low HDL. On the other end of the scale, low HDL is a significant risk factor on its own. The ideal goal for anyone is to pump up good HDL, taking you to the opposite end of the scale for risk of heart disease.
First – this caution: be wary of the Great Cholesterol Con
Here are a couple of facts you should know:
Almost half of all people who have heart attacks have “normal” cholesterols and over 70% of heart attacks and heart disease are not prevented by cholesterol lowering medications.(1) Just think about this statistic. This means that these statin drugs have given absolutely no benefit to these people – just added unwanted side effects! Additionally statin drugs can reduce serum levels of CoQ10 by up to 40%2. CoQ10 is an essential heart nutrient that helps improve blood flow, reduce hypertension, acts as an antioxidant and has a direct anti-atherogenic effect- all very essential to a healthy cardiovascular system.
Drugs mainly lower your LDL cholesterol. Your doctor may tell you this is the right thing to do. But in test after test, researchers actually find that your HDL levels more reliably determine your risk for heart disease.
Low HDL levels, regardless of total cholesterol put you at a higher risk of death from coronary heart disease3. If your HDL is lower than 1 mmol/l, you are at risk for heart disease – no matter how low your LDL is. When you get your HDL above 1.6 mmol/l, you have a negative risk. If you can get it above 2.2 mmol/l, your heart is in a very safe state. The sad irony is that many prescription drugs actually lower your HDL too. Blood pressure medications like beta-blockers and diuretics also have a particularly negative impact on your HDL levels.
A 2010 review4 found statins did not confer to greater health benefits when given to healthy people (i.e. individuals without a previous history of stroke, heart attack or other cardiovascular issues), with higher cholesterol- known as ‘primary prevention’. They stated that if the heart benefits of statins do not translate into a reduction in total serious adverse events, then statins must be increasing the risk of other (adverse) events to an extent which completely negates their positive heart effects. They summarised their conclusion as “Statins do not have a proven net health benefit in primary prevention populations and thus when used in that setting do not represent good use of scarce health care resources.
Boost Your Heart Health with a Few Simple Lifestyle Changes
In the US, 35% of men and 15% of women have low HDL levels.1 It’s very troubling that children seem to be getting this problem at an ever younger age. Studies show as many as 42% of American children have low HDL5. This may be due to the unhealthy US chemical environment because other cultures don’t show this prevalence, until they immigrate to the US. Then, they become among the worst in just one single generation.
Simple steps to lowering bad cholesterol and increasing the good
Diet and lifestyle changes must form the foundation of any cholesterol-balancing plan.
1. Follow a cholesterol-lowering eating plan. Important dietary changes to improve your general cardiovascular health include:
Eliminate damaging trans fats found in fast foods, fried foods and baked goods. Trans fats increase your risk of developing heart disease by increasing the ‘bad’ cholesterol.
Eat the right fats- consume grass-fed meats and eggs, nuts and seeds, cold water fish, a little organic butter and healthy oils such as olive, flaxseed and coconut oils. Avoid margarine. Avoiding all animal fats is not necessary for gaining balanced cholesterol levels in fact a low-fat, high-carb diet actually lowers your HDL levels.
Follow the principles of the Mediterranean diet- rich in fresh fish, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil and garlic. People following the Mediterranean diet have the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease in the world. This diet is high in monounsaturated fatty acids and has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol plasma levels and reduce susceptibility to LDL oxidation.
Cut down on sugar and white flour products in your diet. Soft drinks, fruit juices and processed foods frequently contain ‘hidden sugars’. When there is an over-supply of sugar the body converts this to fat, which negatively affects cholesterol balance.
Eat plenty of dark green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower as well as bright colored fruits and veggies too.
Moderate alcohol consumption: A glass of wine can help raise your HDL. Moderation is the key. Chose wines that do not have preservatives, both red and white have the same research benefits however, red is just that bit superior.
2. Lose weight.
If you are overweight, weight loss is an essential part of reducing your cholesterol levels. If you need to lose weight, our Practitioner can support you with a clinically-proven, specialised weight loss program.
3. Get moving.
This is perhaps the most important element and long-term practice can even reverse heart disease. Daily physical activity is vital for improving cardiovascular health, stabilising cholesterol levels and for weight maintenance. Any activity you like is fine and you can start with simply walking. Start at around 30minutes of gentle walking a day then 3 times a week take your walk up to a brisk ¾ hour.
4. Adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Stop Smoking: It sounds obvious, but if you smoke, you should stop. Not only does smoking lower your HDL, it constricts your blood vessels and raises your risk of heart attack in many other ways as well.
Stress and Anxiety: These two emotional charges can cause hypertension, elevate cortisol and reduce digestion leading to other chemical imbalances. This is true with over or underweight people. Inflammation is just one outcome and is the starter of many diseases including hypertension. Even a small amount of LDL can be a big problem with stress.
Talk to us if you need help managing stress or quitting cigarette smoking.
5. Supportive supplements from the natural dispensary. As well as the dietary and lifestyle strategies already suggested, the following Natural Medicines may also help prevent and/or treat high cholesterol:
Krill Oil – Krill oil is a valuable source of essential fatty acids, antioxidants and phospholipids which have been shown to be effective in reducing cholesterol. This source of essential fatty acids can help to correct the balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol and reduce inflammation, making krill oil a vital nutrient for keeping your heart healthy.
Sugar Cane Wax Sterols – Sugar cane wax sterols (or policosanols) are nature’s answer for mildly elevated cholesterol. Sugar cane wax sterols help reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. Additionally other cardiovascular benefits have been observed, including an anti-platelet effect.
Fish oil/Cod liver oil is a reliable way to boost HDL if you’re not getting enough omega-3s from your diet. Fish oil is particularly effective at reducing triglyceride levels. It’s important you take garlic with fish oil, or that your fish oil supplement contains garlic to ensure healthy cholesterol levels. See our fish oil client information page for more details.
Antioxidants are vital to prevent oxidation of cholesterol. It’s a challenge to find enough in the average diet today so often supplements are recommended. There are many different types of antioxidants too so don’t be surprised if your health care professional advises a mixture of products.
Digestive enzymes may be needed- our ability to digest adequately and synthesis fats reduces as we age and as the natural production of these enzymes drops.
Maintain dietary fibre- water soluble fibres, taken with adequate water, swell in the stomach to create a sensation of fullness which helps reduce appetite. They also help prevent cholesterol absorption from the gut and promote ease of elimination. Try oat bran, Psyllium, rice bran.
Here is a list of fiber that has given good evidence of lower cholesterol with percentage reduction6. The overwhelming majority of studies use oatmeal or bran. You may wish to note that for every 1% drop in serum cholesterol equates to 2% decrease in risk of the development of heart disease.
Oat bran 50-100 grams 20% reduction in cholesterol
Guar gum 9-15 10
Pectin 6-10 5
Psyllium 10-20 10-20
Vegetable fiber 27 10
Liver and gallbladder support- herbs and nutrients that support the production and flow of bile are an important part of cholesterol management as well. This helps increase cholesterol excretion via increased bile production. Specific herbs such as globe artichoke have been clinically demonstrated to lower LDL cholesterol.
Lecithin- helps balance cholesterol, decreasing intestinal absorption of it and helping to transfer it out of the body via bile. In clinic we combine it with plant sterols to lower LDL and total cholesterol.
CoQ10- essential for heart health and of utmost importance to supplement if also on statin medications as well as certain blood-pressure lowering medications.
Niacin (Vit B3) has been established to help maintain optimal HDL levels in relation to LDL. It is also effective at reducing lp(a) concentrations, supporting long term cardiovascular health. We use a specific form of niacinol in clinic to get the best results without the uncomfortable flushing that can occur with other Vitamin B3 supplements.
BICOM is the best therapy for balancing cholesterol
The BICOM device we use in clinic has a very good protocol that helps to improve the livers capacity to regulate fats. We have found a 30 minute treatment, scheduled every 2 weeks for 6 sessions to be most effective (the end of day is ideal).
Start Making Changes Today!
Start making changes today. It is never too late to improve your health, and the simple dietary and lifestyle modifications outlined here, along with appropriate supplementation, can add years to your life and life to your years!
1. Cardenas G., Lavie C. How significant is HDL cholesterol? Emergency Medicine. Sep 2005.
2. Ghirlanda G et al. J Clin Pharmacol 1993; 33: 226-229
3. Goldbourt U, Yaari S, Medalie JH. Isolated low HDL cholesterol as a risk factor for coronary heart disease mortality. A 21-year follow-up of 8000 men. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 1997 Jan;17(1):107-13.
4. 1. Do statins have a role in primary prevention? An update. Therapeutics Letter March-April 2010. Therapeutics Initiative University of British Columbia
5. Harrell J. Elementary signs of heart disease found in children. The American Heart Association. www.americanheart.org
6. Result of a study in 1999 printed in the American Clinical Journal Clinical of Nutrition. Details available on reques