Cardiovascular disease (heart disease) is the number one killer in the U.S. and high cholesterol is a huge risk factor for heart attack, strokes, and other vascular diseases.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance which is found in high fat meat (such as non grass fed beef and pork), egg yolks, organ meats, and shellfish. Our livers also make cholesterol when we eat saturated and trans fat foods such as beef, pork, lamb, high fat dairy, many processed foods, fried foods, cookies, pastries, muffins, and shortening. Unfortunately, some people are genetically more programmed at producing cholesterol from their foods.
The Livers Handling of Cholesterol
Most of cholesterol that you eat is absorbed and transported to the liver. In the liver this ingested cholesterol plus the cholesterol your body produces is then transported out of the liver in the form of VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein). VLDL then circulates through the bloodstream (via the arteries) and the triglycerides are absorbed into your fat cells (which makes the fat cells larger) and the muscles. The muscles though, will burn fat for fuel when you are active, in light to moderate exercise, and even at rest. Therefore, the more muscle mass you have, the more efficient you are at burning fat. Once the triglycerides are absorbed, the remaining particle is LDL- the bad cholesterol which is related to heart attacks and strokes.
Why is LDL "Bad"?
LDL cholesterol is necessary for making cell membranes, bile acids, vitamin D, and hormones, however, once all of these requirements are met, the remaining LDL cholesterol circulates through the bloodstream. LDL cholesterol is very "sticky" and adheres to the walls of arteries which causes progressive narrowing of the blood vessels. Plaque develops over time from a build up of the LDL cholesterol and when 85% of the artery lumen is blocked, symptoms such as angina and mini strokes begin, or worse yet, sudden death heart attack. Therefore it is very important to keep your LDL cholesterol number under 2.0 -2.5 MMOL/L.
What is the difference between Total Cholesterol, LDL, and HDL Cholesterol?
Your doctor evaluates several parameters of your cholesterol level. Total cholesterol is the total amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream including VLDL, LDL, and HDL. This number should safely be below 3.9 MMOL/L or at worst 4.7 MMOL/L. HDL is the "good" cholesterol. It is a carrier vessel that engulfs the cholesterol in the artery wall and recycles it back to the liver. Having a high HDL number is cardio protective. Staying fit and at an ideal weight helps to raise your HDL cholesterol number. LDL we discussed above.
How can you lower you Total Cholesterol, LDL, and/or Triglycerides and increase your HDL levels, naturally?
-Eat less saturated fat (non grass fed red meats such as beef and pork) and trans fat (usually found in processed and prepared foods).
-Reduce your intake of refined sugars/carbohydrates, i.e. white sugar, white flour, white pasta, white rice, pastries, cake, candy, soda, fruit juice (Has lots of sugar in it!).
-Eating fatty fish such as herring, sea bass, salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, tuna (light)
-Taking Omega 3 fatty acid supplements.
-Eating ground flax seed (2-3/TBS/day sprinkled on cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, salads).
-Eating soy foods, walnuts, green leafy vegetables.
-Eat cholesterol lowering fiber! High fiber foods can drag cholesterol out of the body and thereby lower blood cholesterol by up to 25%. These foods include: beans and peas especially kidney beans, chick peas and lentils, oat bran and oatmeal (not instant), psyllium husk fiber, ground flax seed and fruits containing pectin (apples, peaches, pears, plums).
-Consider 1 glass of red wine or alcohol/night to increase HDL, unless you have elevated tryglycerides, have a history of alcohol abuse or have a history of breast cancer.
-Eat purple skinned fruits and juices to increase your HDL levels.
-Increase your physical activity and lose weight. If you are overweight, weight loss decreases LDL and thereby HDL increases.
-Quit smoking! This will increase your HDL levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.
-Consult you doctor, chiropractor, or naturopath about supplementing with natural supplements to lower your cholesterol. Such as guggulipid (from gum guggul), artichoke leaf extract, and Omega 3 fatty acids. These supplements have been used in human clinical trial to lower the bad cholesterol by up to 27% and tryglycerides by up to 30%.
-In some cases, prescription drugs may also be needed to reduce cholesterol levels to a safe range. However, be advised on the adverse consequences these drugs can have. Studies suggest that 90% of individuals, with effort and patience can reduce their cholesterol into an ideal range with the proper dietary foods, lifestyle, weight management and natural supplements.