Q: Please advise what I can take to reduce my cholesterol naturally? Thank you. G.M.
DR DAVID NYE REPLIES:
Firstly, we need to put cholesterol as a risk factor into context. High cholesterol does not cause heart attacks. The main causes of a heart attack are stress combined with inflammation. Inflammation of the arteries causes rough patches, which then allows the cholesterol to stick to these, resulting in atheroma plaques. When severe stress is experienced, the compromised artery may narrow due to spasm, which blocks the blood flow, which leads to a heart attack.
So, when one wishes to measure one’s risk of getting a heart attack, one needs to look at a range of risk factors, not just the cholesterol. These risk factors include:
- The components of cholesterol: LDL (low density lipoprotein), triglycerides and HDL (high density lipoprotein)
- usCRP (ultra-sensitive C-reactive protein) as a measure of inflammation in the arteries
- Lpa, a hereditary risk factor
- Vitamin D3
All of these can be measured with a simple blood sample. The LDL is generally regarded as ‘bad’ cholesterol, but it can be further divided into fluffy particles (which are good) and dense particles (which are bad), but unfortunately this cannot yet be measured in South Africa. A raised level of triglycerides is often hereditary, or may indicate a lot of fat in the diet. HDL is the ‘good’ cholesterol, and if it is too low, it can be raised by exercise and omega-3 fats and a variety of natural supplements.
usCRP can be reduced by avoiding inflammatory foods in the diet, such as sugars, refined starches and poor quality, or burned, oils. Smoking is a big contributor to raising inflammation i.e. usCRP.
Homocysteine is a by-product of the Krebs cycle in the cells, which produces energy. When one has insufficient B-vitamins and folic acid in the diet, homocysteine is produced. A raised level in the blood is a significant risk factor for heart disease, strokes and cancer. It can be lowered by increasing the intake of B-vitamins and folic acid.
Vitamin D3 is made under the skin with sufficient exposure to sunlight. Unfortunately, everyone is now too scared of sun exposure, and cover up or use block-out creams. The result is low levels of Vitamin D3 (ideal = 40-70ng/ml). D3 has hormonal actions on every system in the body, so it is important to get your level up into the optimal range.
Having put the cholesterol risk factor into context, we can now address how to lower cholesterol. Cutting down on fat in the diet can contribute to lowering cholesterol, but if you eat too little, the liver will manufacture it anyway. Avoid eating low fat foods, such as yoghurts, as these often have high amounts of refined sugars, to compensate for the taste. These sugars will contribute to inflammation, and increase your cardiac risk! Also avoid hydrogenated fats (trans-fats) often found in baked goods or margarines, as these contribute to inflammation.
Increase your intake of vegetables, fruits and legumes, which all provide soluble fiber. Garlic and olive oil have also been shown to reduce cholesterol. Increasing exercise is another factor responsible for healthier cholesterol levels.
Natural supplements that help lower cholesterol include red yeast rice, guggulipid, green tea, fish oils, policosanol, phytosterols, vitamin B3 (niacin) and artichoke leaf.