Ounce of Prevention | Worried about your cholesterol?
Modern medicine continues to insist that we must closely monitor the level of cholesterol in our blood, and woe betide you if it is elevated. But what really is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy lipid (fat) substance in the blood that is an essential component of each and every every cell in your body.
It is a very important substance with several important roles: it is part of the structure of cell membranes and is used to manufacture many vital hormones as well as vitamin D. Cholesterol is not an enemy and we cannot exist without it.
Unfortunately, cholesterol has been made into a villain and billions of dollars are made annually from the sale of expensive and dangerous cholesterol-lowering drugs.
In my opinion, elevated cholesterol, like high blood pressure or high blood sugar, is a symptom, not a disease. The body is simply signalling that something is out of balance and needs correction. Just taking a pill to manage the symptom without dealing with the underlying cause is unhealthy.
TYPES OF CHOLESTEROL
Most people are confused about the terms doctors use to describe cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol is called 'bad' cholesterol because elevated levels of LDL cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. HDL cholesterol is called the 'good cholesterol' because HDL cholesterol particles help to prevent heart disease.
Remember this by thinking of 'L' as meaning 'lousy' and 'H' as meaning healthy. Total cholesterol refers to the sum of all the cholesterol in the blood.
Too much emphasis is often placed on the total cholesterol level. A better predictor of cardiovascular risk is actually the ratio of good cholesterol (HDL) to total cholesterol. The higher this ratio is, the better.
Furthermore, recent research suggests that a high cholesterol level in the blood is not a major risk factor for heart disease. Elevated levels of two other substances in the blood, homocysteine and C-reactive protein, are much better indicators of heart disease risk. These other blood tests are readily available. Also, low levels of cholesterol are strong indicators of poor health.
YOU MAKE YOUR CHOLESTEROL
More than 70 per cent of the cholesterol in the blood is made by the liver, and the rest comes from the diet. So just cutting back on high cholesterol foods by itself is not an effective way to reduce cholesterol. You do not have to eat fatty foods to have high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is so important that the body can easily make it from sugar and other carbohydrates. Someone on a totally cholesterol-free diet (like strict vegetarians) can still have a high cholesterol.
Many of the 'low cholesterol foods' being advertised are so full of sugar and carbohydrates that you are swapping 'black dog for monkey' when you use them hoping to lower your cholesterol.
Find the cause: The common causes of elevated cholesterol include poor lifestyle practices - a high carbohydrate diet, obesity, lack of exercise, chronic stress, some medications and hormonal imbalance particularly low thyroid disorders. It is vital that you detect the cause for your high cholesterol and correct that problem before jumping to drug therapy.
The popular cholesterol-lowering drugs (the statins) work primarily by suppressing the liver. I consider them to be liver toxins. People on most of these medications need to do regular liver tests looking for signs of liver damage. Yes, statins damage the liver.
Interestingly, drinking a lot of alcohol also lowers cholesterol by damaging the liver, but I hope that no one would consider drinking booze for that purpose.
Statin use is also associated with a long and scary list of potentially severe side effects. These drugs may damage the heart itself and contribute to heart failure.
Muscle pains and muscle damage, brain and the nervous system problems, including memory loss, cognitive decline and depression are well-known complications.
Recent research suggests that statin use may even increase your risk of developing diabetes!
They may also cause digestive problems, including stomach upset and constipation. These damages may sometimes be irreversible. Statin drugs to lower cholesterol should, in my opinion, be used with great caution, and not prescribed as frequently as they are now. If you happen to be on these drugs, I strongly advise taking a supplement called coenzymeQ10 to reduce the risk of side effects. These statin drugs deplete the heart, brain and muscles of this important substance.
If you want to use a 'drug', I would recommend more harmless substances like polycosanol, made from the sugarcane plant (available by prescribed as Arteriomixol) or a yeast extract from red rice - red rice yeast.
Control cholesterol naturally: Lifestyle play a major role in balancing cholesterol levels, and lifestyle modification should be the first and most important part of any programme for lowering cholesterol.
FOOD: Let your food be your medicine, but do not just focus on low cholesterol foods, as is usually recommended. A diet high in fibre and healthy protein, low in saturated and hydrogenated fats and low in simple carbohydrates (especially sugar and flour and rice) is ideal.
Specific cholesterol-lowering foods include soy, green tea, oats, garlic and ginger. I strongly recommend 20-plus grams of soy protein, a few cups of green tea, plus lots of fibre and eight glasses of water daily.
WEIGHT CONTROL: Correct even mild obesity, with particular focus on losing fat from around the waist. This is vital to the control of cholesterol as well as blood sugar, blood pressure and triglycerides.
EXERCISE: As little as 30 minutes of brisk walking, four times per week, assists in lowering cholesterol as well as benefiting overall health in many other ways. It even helps to increase the healthy HDL cholesterol.
STRESS MANAGEMENT: Stress by itself can elevate cholesterol levels as the body manufactures more cholesterol when stressed. Stress-management techniques like meditation, yoga, relaxation exercises, tai chi and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) are all very useful.
Several nutritional supplements and herbs assist with cholesterol balance:
- Fish oils: High in omega 3 fatty acids lower cholesterol while promoting a healthy heart and circulation. Three or more grams daily is most effective.
- Antioxidants: Like vitamin C and E, garlic, rosemary and pycnogenol are all very useful.
- Niacin (vitamin B3): In high dosages, niacin effectively lowers cholesterol. I suggest using a form of niacin called niacinate to prevent flushing of the skin. A B complex supplement should accompany the niacin.
- Soluble fibre: This assists the body to eliminate excess cholesterol and is available as a tablet or powder.