High cholesterol is a well-known risk factor in heart disease. This waxy, fat-like substance comes from the diet, but is primarily made by the liver, and is an essential component of cell membranes. The body also uses it to produce hormones and vitamin D.
Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream attached to two different compounds called lipoproteins: (1) low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and (2) high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is commonly known as the “bad cholesterol;” it carries cholesterol from the liver throughout the body, making it available and potentially allowing it to be deposited in artery walls. HDL is known as the “good cholesterol;” it picks up cholesterol from the blood and delivers it to cells that use it, or back to the liver to be recycled or eliminated from the body.
Causes and Symptoms
The body needs cholesterol to function, but too much of it in the blood, or too much of the wrong kind, can add up to trouble. The factors leading to heart disease are as follows:
- High Cholesterol, especially high LDL level. These two factors combine to form a well known risk factor for heart disease (though people can have heart disease without having high cholesterol). Lifestyle may influence cholesterol levels in part, especially the consumption of saturated fats, but the tendency toward high cholesterol diet and nutritional supplementation is moderately effective. Medications to lower cholesterol are usually very effective.
- Low HDL cholesterol and high triglyceride (blood fat) levels. This is a different pattern than high total and LDL cholesterol although someone may have both. This pattern, sometimes called “Syndrome X,” is associated with insulin resistance. It is frequently influenced by diet and lifestyle, but also is genetically driven and appears to affect about 30 percent of the population. It carries with it an increased risk of high blood pressure and diabetes as well as heart disease. Dietary and nutritional supplement treatments for this pattern are different from those for high total and LDL cholesterol levels. Here, lifestyle changes are generally quite effective.
Suggested Lifestyle and Low Cholesterol Diet Changes
To improve your cholesterol profile, try the following:
- Lose weight. Even a modest amount of weight loss can lower cholesterol levels.
- Reduce the amount of sugar and flour that you eat. Recent evidence indicates that added sugar – in the form of table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup – is probably a greater contributor to heart disease than is saturated fat. In fact, certain components of full-fat dairy foods may be cardio-protective. As a general rule, don’t consume food with added sugars. In particular, don’t consume soft drinks, which, because they contain no fiber to slow metabolism, cause rapid spikes and dips in blood sugar levels. The result can be overeating, obesity, and heart disease.
- Avoid trans-fats. These heart damaging fats can reduce HDL level and raise LDL levels. If you find “partially hydrogenerated oil” listed in the ingredient list on food labels, find a healthier, low cholesterol diet substitute. There are many spreads available on the market today that are free from trans-fat. Trans-fat is found in many margarines and in most heavily processed foods, as well as in snack foods like chips, crackers and cookies, and in the oils used to cook fast-food French fries, doughnuts, and movie popcorn.
- Exercise. Daily aerobic exercise is one well-proven method to increase HDL levels.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking is a risk factor for heart disease all by itself, but can also significant lower HDL cholesterol.
- Relax. Emotional stress may trigger the body to release fat into the bloodstream, raising cholesterol levels. Practice daily breathing exercises and a stress-reduction technique that works for you, such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, or tai chi.
Nutrition and Supplements
The following low cholesterol diet may help to reduce cholesterol levels:
- Eat some nuts every day. Nuts, especially almonds, walnuts, and cashews, contain heart healthy monounsaturated fat.
- Substitute organic soy protein or other beans for animal protein. The protein in soy foods and other beans has been shown to lower cholesterol levels. Try to incorporate two servings a day into your meals. Choose from tofu, tempeh, soy milk, whole soy beans, and roasted soy nuts. Non-organic soy is genetically modified and may cause an allergic reaction. “Beano” supplement helps reduce gas when eating beans.
- Use fresh garlic regularly in you meals. Garlic has been shown to lower both cholesterol levels and blood pressure – and it tastes wonderful, too! Use one or two raw or lightly cooked cloves a day.
- Drink organic decaffeinated green tea daily. The antioxidants in green tea help lower cholesterol and prevent the cholesterol in your blood from oxidizing.
- Eat plenty of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber has a powerful cholesterol-lowering effect. The best sources of soluble fiber are beans and lentils, apples, citrus fruits, oats, barley, peas, carrots, ground flax seed, and oat bran daily.
- Limit refined carbohydrates. A diet full of cookies, cakes, crackers, fluffy bread, chips, and sodas can increase triglyceride levels and lower HDL.
- Take coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to be beneficial for healthy heart by protecting LDL cholesterol from oxidation and by reenergizing the mitochondria in the heart cells, which is where energy metabolism occurs. CoQ10 may also help lower blood pressure.
- Take fish oil. Fish oil contains an abundance of essential fatty acids known as omega-3s. Daily fish oil is an effective preventative strategy against heart disease, and has been shown to lower triglyceride levels, minimize inflammation and clotting, and increase HDL cholesterol.
Niacin for Lower Cholesterol
Niacin (B3) is the best thing to lower triglycerides, and the cheapest. This works better than the prescription drugs. Use “short acting” 500mg, 1000 tablets for $21. Can get at Costco. Cheaper than the sustaining acting niacin.
Note: Aspirin use is optional. It lessens the “niacin flush” somewhat, but any dose of aspirin can cause bleeding in the stomach. Aspirin has no affect on cholesterol levels.
- First week: After dinner, take one 500mg niacin pill. Taking the niacin after a meal slows absorption and works better. (Optional: before dinner, take 81mg baby aspirin.)
- Second week: Take 500 mg niacin after breakfast. Take 500 mg niacin after dinner. (Optional: Take 81mg baby aspirin 1x per day before breakfast.)
- Third week and thereafter: Take 500 mg niacin after breakfast, 500 mg niacin after lunch, and 500 mg niacin after dinner. (Optional: Take 81mg baby aspirin 1x per day before breakfast.)
Measure the cholesterol levels 2 to 3 months after taking treatment. 70% of patients were down to acceptable levels in the 2 to 3 months period. Recommended not to take any more than 2000 mg per day of niacin.