High levels of cholesterol in the blood are one of the many risk factors for various health problems and can cause a high risk in developing heart disease and stroke. Inhibited circulation can also cause gallstones, impotence, high blood pressure, and loss of mental awareness.
However, not all cholesterol is bad. Your body does require it in moderation for the proper function of cells, nerves, and hormones. It is an essential component of every cell in your body.
To distribute cholesterol throughout the body, substances called lipoproteins transport it in the blood. One class of lipoproteins, called low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) carries cholesterol from the liver, where it is produced, to the cells that need it. Another kind of lipoprotein, called high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) picks up the excess cholesterol from the cells and takes it back to the liver, where it is broken down and excreted from the body or reprocessed.
Under normal conditions, the lipoproteins keep cholesterol levels in balance. But this carefully calibrated system can be overtaxed when the body creates more cholesterol than HDL can sweep away. After the cells take what they need, the existing HDLs remove what they can, and the extra cholesterol simply remains in the blood. Then if cholesterol becomes oxidized (especially LDL cholesterol) and attaches to the artery walls and sets the stage for inflammation of the arteries. This chronic inflammation contributes to further buildup and deposition of cholesterol and plaque on the interior walls of the arteries. We call this buildup, which narrows the arteries and limits the amount of blood that can pass through them, arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Arteriosclerosis is the first stage of heart disease; when left untreated, it will lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Often, there are no symptoms of high cholesterol, so it’s important to have your practitioner perform a blood analysis regularly. One sign of high cholesterol can be a buildup of cholesterol rings on the skin under the eyes. Make an appointment if cholesterol or heart problems run in your family, or if you experience any of the following:
- Mental confusion or dullness
- Circulatory problems
- Difficulty breathing after minor exertion
Although high cholesterol can be caused by a preexisting disorder, elevated cholesterol levels are most often caused by the standard American diet, which relies heavily on animal products, saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates. Other causes may be due to inactivity, diabetes and insulin resistance, hypothyroidism and stress.
It then stands to reason, that high cholesterol can often be treated with dietary changes, supplementation and exercise. Stress reduction also has a beneficial effect as well.
Taking Control of Your Health
While prescription medications prescribed by medical doctors may be necessary in some cases, it is strongly suggested that you employ natural strategies before trying any of the cholesterol-lowering medications on the market. These drugs, while effective at reducing cholesterol, are potentially toxic to the liver and may cause nutritional deficiencies and many doctors prescribe them as a matter of routine If your doctor wants to prescribe a cholesterol-lowering agent for you, explain to him or her that you’re willing to embark on a holistic regimen in the hopes of avoiding a lifelong dependency on drugs. Although your doctor may not always agree, your health is your choice and finding a qualified holistic health practitioner should be one of your options. Whatever your decision, be sure that it is based on your individual situation.
Just as a poor diet is a primary cause of high cholesterol, dietary changes are one of the best ways to treat it. One major key to balancing cholesterol levels is to consume a diet that’s high in fiber. This means increasing the amount of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains in the diet. This does not mean to consume these food types sporadically throughout the week, but instead, on a daily basis.
Soluble fiber is a great choice. This type of fiber does not dissolve in water and binds cholesterol as it passes through the digestive tract. Oat bran is a great example of soluble fiber, and more than twenty studies show that it reduces total and LDL cholesterol when consumed on a daily basis. One bowl of oatmeal, the good organic kind and not the instant, can lower cholesterol levels between 8 and 23 percent in just three weeks. Pectin, found in the skin of apples, is also effective, as is ground flaxseeds.
The reduction of fats in the diet is important as well. In addition, eating less sugar products and refined carbohydrates can make all the difference in the world for some people’s cholesterol levels. Finally, many people with diabetes and insulin resistance find that cutting down on simple carbohydrates and increasing the consumption of protein foods can dramatically reduce cholesterol levels.
As mentioned above, soluble fiber can dramatically decrease cholesterol levels (along with your risk of developing many other diseases). Oats, brown rice, beans, and fruits are all good sources; have some at every meal. For breakfast, you might like to have a bowl of hot oatmeal, flavored with soy milk, bananas, and a little molasses, and an orange or a half grapefruit on the side.
The molecules in cholesterol are highly vulnerable to damage by free radicals. Reduce your risk of developing heart disease and other serious degenerative illness by increasing your consumption of deeply colored fruits and vegetables. Eat a wide variety for the broadest protection, and try for at least five raw or lightly cooked servings every day.
Not all fats are forbidden to people with elevated cholesterol. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) actually have a heart-protecting effect, so be sure to incorporate cold-water fish like salmon or mackerel into your meals several times a week. Flaxseeds can be ground down and are another good source of EFAs; you can sprinkle them over salads or use the oil as a dressing.
Olive oil increases levels of HDL (good cholesterol). The uses for this fruity oil are numerous: it can enrich pasta sauces, or you can add a little to a skillet and sauté your favorite vegetables.
Garlic and onions are savory complements to vegetarian meals—and they help lower LDL cholesterol while raising HDL.
Add spices to your meals, such as cayenne, basil, rosemary, and oregano. These spices are rich in antioxidants to prevent cholesterol oxidation.
Nuts, such as walnuts, have been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Eat a handful daily.
Food to Avoid
Fats that are saturated, hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated tend to increase cholesterol levels. By avoiding foods that contain these bad fats, you can decrease cholesterol and improve your cardiovascular health. Fried foods, sweet baked goods, and most crackers are all dangerously full of fats. Even margarine and vegetable shortening are high in partially hydrogenated fats, which are even deadlier than the saturated kind.
Sugar and alcohol stimulate the liver to produce more cholesterol. Avoid alcoholic beverages and all sources of refined sugar, including sodas, candy, and low-fat baked goods.
An excess consumption of caffeine has been linked to high cholesterol. Green tea is a much better choice, as it is rich in antioxidants that have been shown to prevent cholesterol oxidation.
A good quality multivitamin is recommended to help supply the body with nutrients that may be deficient or missing in your diet.
Soy protein has been shown in studies to reduce total and LDL cholesterol and to increase HDL. Take 25 to 50 grams daily.
Green tea contains potent antioxidants known as polyphenols that reduce cholesterol oxidation. It has also been shown to reduce total cholesterol levels, while increasing good HDL cholesterol.
Numerous studies have shown that vitamin C reduces the risk of dying from heart disease and reduces total cholesterol and LDL levels and acts to prevent their oxidation. One of the mechanisms, in addition to its ability to prevent cholesterol oxidation, is that it is involved in the formation of bile salts. Bile is produced by the liver and released by the gallbladder to digest fats. Cholesterol is converted into bile salts and eliminated through the digestive tract. Vitamin C enhances this process by improving bile salt formation and thus cholesterol elimination.
Get regular checkups, and find a practitioner who is willing to explain the numbers to you.
Smoking is the number one risk factor in heart disease. If you smoke and have high cholesterol, you’re in grave danger of having a heart attack. People who smoke must quit immediately; even if you’ve never picked up the habit but are exposed to secondhand smoke, you must find a cleaner environment in which to live or work.
Exercise lowers LDL levels, while raising those of HDL. Find an activity you enjoy, and pursue it regularly. A brisk thirty-minute walk every day does wonders for almost everyone
If you have diabetes or hypothyroidism, work with a practitioner to keep these in check and to devise an individual plan for controlling your cholesterol.
If you suspect or know that you or someone you know may have high cholesterol, it is highly recommended that you seek professional help from a qualified practitioner. It is best to work with a practitioner who embraces natural therapies and will work with you in finding the cause of your health issues and help you meet your goals towards better health. There are many natural remedies available that are effective. These come in the form of herbal extracts and homeopathic remedies, which should be matched with your symptoms. A qualified holistic health practitioner will be able to assist you with this and help you accomplish your goals for better health.