Cholesterol is found in every single cell of the human body. While most people know that cholesterol comes from foods like meat, eggs, and butter, not everyone knows that it is also produced naturally in your liver. We naturally produce cholesterol because it is necessary for the proper functioning of the body, but if levels are too high, it can lead to many serious diseases. Many of the patients that come to my office are interested in finding natural ways to lower their cholesterol, and today I want to share a few of those tips with you.
Know your blood type and eat the right diet for your body
Did you know that people with Type A and AB blood are more likely to have high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease than people with Type O blood? In fact, there are numerous studies showing this to be the case (1). There are a variety of reasons for this correlation. First, the tendency for high cholesterol is often a genetically inherited trait, and these genes seem to be tied to the A blood type genes. Secondly, people with Type A and AB blood have very low levels of intestinal alkaline phosphatase, an enzyme that helps break down dietary fat and cholesterol. Studies suggest that this inability to break down fat predisposes Types As and ABs to higher cholesterol and a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
In contrast to the A and AB blood types, fat intake does not seem to be directly related to the creation of heart disease in Type O and Type B individuals. Instead, the O and B blood types are predisposed to something called carbohydrate intolerance. Due to their genetics, these types cannot properly process excess starches and grains, and these foods are stored as fat and triglycerides in the body.
Knowing this information makes it easier to understand why the Type A diet resembles the Mediterranean diet, with smaller amounts of fat and animal protein and larger amounts of grains, and the Type O diet more closely resembles the Paleo approach, with high amounts of meat and fat and lower amounts of grains and carbs. Eating for your blood type literally gives your body a metabolic advantage when it comes to lowering your cholesterol and other cardiovascular risk factors, thus lowering your risk for future heart disease, hypertension, and strokes.
Eat more fiber
Switching to a diet high in soluble fiber helps to decrease LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber is a special type of fiber that turns to gel in your intestinal tract, and this gel actually helps cholesterol pass through your body without being absorbed. Foods that are high in soluble fiber are: oats, barley, apples, pears, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils. Psyllium husk is also a great source of soluble fiber. Studies show that adding just 3 grams of soluble fiber (the amount in 1 bowl of oatmeal) per day lowers total cholesterol by 8%-23% (2).
Reduce your intake of trans fats
Eating this specific type of fat actually stimulates your body to increase its own production of LDL cholesterol. Trans fats are listed on food labels as partially hydrogenated oils, so make sure to read ingredient lists closely. The most common foods that contain trans fats are processed foods; especially margarine, crackers, and commercially baked goods like pies, cakes, and cookies.
Get out and exercise!
Because cholesterol is so commonly associated in our minds with diet, we often forget the importance of exercise in lowering cholesterol levels. But studies show that engaging in a regular exercise program substantially lowers LDL levels while also increasing HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol levels (3). Most healthy people should exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes, 4-5 times per week. Patients often ask me what type of exercise is best for their health, and my honest answer is this: do what you love! If you don’t absolutely love your exercise program, you are never going to get yourself to make it a regular habit. So get out and try things — walk, run, dance, hike, play a sport, join a team, chase your kids around the park. All of it will help to lower your cholesterol levels, and it will also help you lose weight and reduce your risk of chronic disease. The key is consistency. Make exercise a habit in your life that you love to do and look forward to every day.
Herbs and supplements
When diet and lifestyle isn’t enough, herbs and supplements can help to naturally lower cholesterol levels. Always consult with your physician before starting any supplements to treat high cholesterol, especially if you are taking medications or have other diagnosed medical conditions.
Essential Fatty Acids: fish oil supplements can help lower LDLs and triglycerides and raise HDL levels. They also help to lower inflammation in the body and thin the blood, which further reduces the risk of a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.
Vitamin E: this vitamin actually helps to decrease your natural production of cholesterol, and it also reduces the oxygenation (or inflammation) of LDL. Make sure to take a natural vitamin E product that has a mix of tocopherols and tocotrienols; synthetic vitamin E is not only less effective but can be harmful to your health.
Phytosterols: phytosterols are molecules in plants that are chemically similar to cholesterol. Their similar structure actually allows them to compete with cholesterol at cholesterol-binding sites in the intestines. This means that when you combine a cholesterol-heavy meal with plant sterols, you will absorb less cholesterol than you otherwise would have. Since phytosterols naturally occur in plants, simply incorporating more vegetables and fruits will automatically increase your consumption of these molecules. But for maximum effect, concentrated phytosterol products taken with meals can help reduce cholesterol levels.
Red Yeast Rice: this supplement, like its name suggests, is actually a type of yeast that grows on rice. In many Asian countries, it is a dietary staple. The active molecules in this supplement are called monacolins, and these molecules block cholesterol production in a very similarly way to statin drugs like Lipitor. Red yeast rice has been shown to decrease LDL levels, but keep in mind that it can cause similar side effects as statins in statin-sensitive individuals. Additionally, like statins, red yeast rice depletes the body of Co-Q10, an important cardiovascular antioxidant. Anyone supplementing with red yeast rice or taking statins should make sure to take a daily Co-Q10 supplement as well.
In the natural treatment of high cholesterol, the best approach is usually a combination of dietary changes, lifestyle changes, and 1 or 2 well-chosen supplemental products. Naturopathic doctors are specially trained in creating healing protocols that are safe and effective in the treatment of all types of chronic disease. If you have questions on how naturopathic medicine may be able to help you improve your health, call 602-359-2893 today to schedule your free 15 minute consultation.
(1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1487138, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v212/n5057/pdf/212041a0.pdf, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1538-7836.2005.01535.x/full, http://www.dadamo.com/btdisease/PathType-read.pl?show=29
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