Lower Cholesterol Naturally, Advanced Natural Medicine Bulletin
9 Ways to Cut Your Cholesterol
By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine Bulletin
Do you know what your cholesterol levels are? Cholesterol – a waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells of the body – is one of several key risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It contributes to the buildup of plaque that can block arteries and eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.
But having higher than normal cholesterol levels doesn’t automatically mean you need to take cholesterol-lowering statin drugs for the rest of your life. Simply making some changes to your lifestyle can bring those numbers down.
One of the easiest ways to lower your cholesterol is by making some simple changes to your diet. And it can start with breakfast. Eating a hearty bowl of oatmeal (not instant) for breakfast every day can provide a dose of cholesterol-cutting soluble fiber. According to Harvard researchers, soluble fiber can lower both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Plant sterols – found in some margarines and yogurts – can also rein those numbers by blocking food-based cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream. As a result, both the phytosterols and the dietary cholesterol are excreted out of the body. In one comparison of phytosterols and statins, Canadian researchers found virtually no difference in their ability to lower LDL cholesterol levels. Yet, unlike statin drugs, phytosterols won’t cause any adverse side effects.
The type and amount of fat you eat can also impact your cholesterol levels. Switch from red meat to chicken or fish, which tend to be lower in saturated fat than beef, for at least a few meals each week. Cold-water fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower triglycerides, one of the components of cholesterol.
Eliminating trans fat is even more important than reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Trans fat not only raises total and LDL cholesterol, it also lowers HDL (good) cholesterol levels. While many processed foods claim to contain “no trans fats,” check the ingredient label for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” fats – a clear indicator that the food is harboring some trans fats.
What about the kind of fat you cook with? Instead of using butter or margarine (which can contain saturated and trans fat), opt for heart-healthy olive oil or organic canola oil.
Adopt Healthy Habits
Making dietary changes is pretty easy. But to truly tackle unhealthy cholesterol levels, you need to make lifestyle changes that, while harder to do, reap great health benefits. The two most important are adopting a regular exercise program and walking away from cigarettes.
It’s no secret that a couch-potato lifestyle is not heart-healthy. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. And aim to do some light to moderate exercise, such as brisk walking or gardening, every day. Studies have shown that exercise not only helps to keep your weight in check, it may also increase HDL cholesterol.
Stop smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke. Smoking has been shown to increase total and LDL cholesterol levels while lowering HDL levels. There are dozens of ways to quit – from sheer willpower to acupuncture to prescription drugs. If you truly want to free yourself from cigarettes, one of these methods can work for you. And if you do fall off the wagon, take heart. It often takes several attempts before you can truly consider yourself an ex-smoker.
Supplements also play an important role in managing cholesterol. One of the most effective is red yeast rice. The fermented by-product of cooked rice on which red yeast is grown, this supplement has been used for centuries to treat a variety of medical conditions. But modern studies show that the true value of red yeast rice is its ability to lower cholesterol.
According to a recent trial of 74 people with unhealthy cholesterol levels, taking a combination of red yeast rice and fish oil is just as effective at lowering LDL cholesterol levels as statin drugs. And unlike pharmaceuticals, this dynamic duo also lowered triglyceride levels in all of the participants taking the supplements.
Other studies show that pairing 2,400 mg. of red yeast rice and 3,000 IU of fish oil not only tames bad cholesterol and triglycerides, it also benefits HDL cholesterol levels.
One Last Thing …
Seniors who sleep longer than eight hours a night may be more prone to unhealthy cholesterol levels, say Dutch researchers. In fact, people who sleep fewer than seven hours a night, as well as those who log more than eight hours are more likely to develop heart disease.
The Dutch scientists came to this conclusion after comparing sleep duration and total cholesterol levels, as well as the ratio of total to HDL cholesterol, in 768 men and women 57 to 97 years old. None of the study participants used cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Overall, the people who slept longer had higher cholesterol levels. Among those younger than 65, spending a longer time in bed accounted for most of this outcome. For people 70 and older, the sleep-cholesterol link was largely due to the fact that people with more fragmented sleep – and therefore less sleep time – had lower cholesterol levels.
If you’ve done everything else, and your cholesterol levels just won’t budge, check the amount of time you spend sleeping. If you are overindulging – or find yourself sleep deprived – try to get seven to eight hours nightly. Not only will you have more energy during the day, you might also end up with a healthier cholesterol profile.
Research Brief …
If you are looking to guard against bone loss, think about borrowing a page from men trying to protect their prostate. Researchers from Tufts University, Hebrew SeniorLife, and Boston University looked at data from 213 men and 390 women over the age of 75 and discovered that those consuming the most carotenoids had less bone loss than those with the lowest amounts. The most effective bone-sparing carotenoid? Lycopene – the pigment found in tomatoes and watermelon.
According to the investigators, the key may be in lycopene’s potent antioxidant activity. Earlier reports have suggested that oxidative stress may increase bone resorption. But, while lycopene appeared to provide the most benefit, other caroteniods like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin also contributed to less bone loss in both the spine and hip.
So what’s the best way to boost your carotenoid intake? Adding a bright array of red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables to your diet every day can deliver a steady stream of these antioxidants to your bones. You can also supplement the amount of carotenoids you eat by taking a mixed-carotenoid supplement to make sure you are getting all the benefits these colorful nutrients have to offer.
Yours in health and happiness,
Becker DJ, Gordon RY, Morris PB, et al. “Simvastatin vs therapeutic lifestyle changes and supplements: randomized primary prevention trial.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2008;83:758-764.
Rudkowska I, AbuMweis SS, Nicolle C, et al. “Cholesterol-lowering efficacy of plant sterols in low-fat yogurt consumed as a snack or with a meal.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2008;27:588-595.
Sahni S, Hannan MT, Blumberg J, et al. “Inverse association of carotenoid intakes with 4-y change in bone mineral density in elderly men and women: the Framingham Osteoporosis Study.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;89: 416-424.
van den Berg JF, Miedema HME, Tulen JHM, et al. “Long Sleep Duration is Associated With Serum Cholesterol in the Elderly: The Rotterdam Study.” Psychosomatic Medicine. 2008;70:1005-1011.