The topic of high cholesterol is close to my heart because I’ve been struggling with it all my life.
My wife recently found out that she has high cholesterol.
And a friend who’s been trying to live healthy the past few years is also struggling with this condition.
Some close friends of mine are also struggling with this, so this is a worldwide epidemic that’s not getting as much attention as it should.
According to a report published by the World Health Organization in 2008, 38% of the world’s population has this condition. And that number increases in developed countries – 54% in Europe and 48% in the Americas.
W.H.O. also mentions that elevated LDL cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. This is a good enough reason to take this condition seriously.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance inside the bloodstream that’s an essential component of our cells.
75% of cholesterol inside the body comes from the liver.
The other 25% comes from the food we eat.
Two types – good and bad
There are two types of cholesterol – LDL and HDL.
Low-density lipoproteins (or LDL) is the nasty stuff that clogs arteries. Hence the term “bad” cholesterol
Too much LDL can clog the arteries and lead to conditions like heart attack and stroke.
High-density lipoproteins (or HDL) is the good guy. It helps protect us from coronary issues by flushing LDL back to the liver for disposal. Hence the term good cholesterol.
High LDL and low HDL put us at risk to cardiovascular ailments because of the buildup of fatty deposits in our blood vessels. Without enough HDL to flush out LDL cholesterol, this is a dangerous scenario that doesn’t have any symptoms whatsoever.
Causes of high cholesterol
Before I continue, I’d like to stress that the cholesterol you’d want to avoid is “bad” cholesterol or LDL.
Good cholesterol or HDL is an essential component that your body needs to help flush fatty, artery clotting lipids from the bloodstream into the liver.
If you have a poor diet, lack exercise, and smoke, chances are your LDL cholesterol is high.
Lack of exercise and poor diet leads to obesity, obesity, and a larger waist. These three also contribute to raising the levels of LDL cholesterol.
Consuming a lot of fat from animal products, namely beef, pork, and dairy products, raises bad cholesterol.
Dairy products include whole cow’s milk and yogurt (sweetened ones). These food products are rich in cholesterol.
Trans fat is another contributing factor to high cholesterol. Foods abundant in trans fat include chips, crackers, commercially baked cookies (yes those in Cosco) and fast food.
The larger your waistline is, the higher the risk. Men who have a waistline of at least 40” (or 102 centimeters) and women with at least 35” (or 89 centimeters) are at high risk to develop high cholesterol.
Inactivity (Lack of Exercise)
Exercise helps boost the HDL cholesterol and at the same time increase the particles that makeup LDL (or bad cholesterol) – this makes it less harmful.
Elevated sugar levels contribute to raising LDL and lower HDL figures. This is a bad combination. Too much sugar will damage the lining of the arteries.
Smokers don’t realize this, but every time they puff a smoke, nicotine damages the walls of their blood vessels.
It increases the chances of fatty deposits accumulating. At the same time, smoking can lower HDL cholesterol.
What are the symptoms?
Unfortunately, we can have high cholesterol and not feel a thing. That’s why I like calling this condition a “silent killer.”
In the majority of cases, symptoms only manifest itself when there is an emergency such as a heart failure where there is enough plaque accumulating in the arteries.
Take the blood test
The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is by taking a blood test.
With the fast-paced lifestyle and abundance of processed foods, physicians often recommend both men and women to do a cholesterol test after 20.
The recommended frequency of testing may vary, but generally, it’s between 4 to 6 years.
But once you have high cholesterol, the frequency will go up. You’ll need to undergo more tests to see how your body reacts to the medication and to adjust the dosage.
You can inherit it
If your mom or dad has high cholesterol chances are, you’ll have this condition too.
Another way people get high cholesterol is through genetics. Doctors call this familial hypercholesterolemia.
Folks who have this condition have elevated cholesterol of at least 300 mg/Dl or higher.
A symptom of this condition includes having yellow patches over the skin or a lump.
How to lower (bad) cholesterol naturally?
Disclaimer: Before making any major decision like ditching your medication, I highly recommend you consult with your physician first. Come up with a battle plan to attack and defeat this condition. That may include reducing dosage and eventually phasing out medication based on test results.
I was 27 years old when I found out I had high cholesterol. My LDL cholesterol was 265 mg/DL, so it was pretty high. Our family doctor immediately asked me to take 20 mg of Crestor every day.
After a few months, it went down to 160 mg/DL, but the problem is I was dependent on this drug to keep my LDL levels at bay.
It’s was like this for several years. Whenever I would be religious in taking it, my cholesterol levels became manageable, but once I stopped, it went up.
Side effects of statin
According to RXList.com, Crestor is a statin drug that works by slowing down the production of cholesterol of the body. It does this by blocking an enzyme in the liver responsible for cholesterol production (HMG-CoA reductase).
These include headache, depression, muscle aches, joint pain, constipation, nausea, indigestion, or diarrhea.
The American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs cites 900 studies on the adverse effects of statins. Muscle problems are the most common side effects. Other negative effects, according to studies, include cognitive problems and numbness in the extremities.
The biggest problem when consuming statin is that these symptoms don’t manifest itself over the short term. And it’s quite useful in lowering LDL levels by 50 points or more.
So you don’t think that these reactions come from the drug because it took a while before it manifested. That is the most significant danger.
Taking statins for extended periods at high doses can have these consequences:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Cognitive loss
Do statins cause cancer (or not)?
I only raised this question because of the article I read at Mercola.com. The headline says that this drug “stimulate the growth of new blood vessels by mimicking the growth factor.”
He does not believe in statins because it lowers the cholesterol too much and increases your risk to mood disorders, depression, stroke, and violence.
In one study done by the American Medical Association in 1996 concluded that lipid-lowering drugs (this includes (statins) caused cancer in rodents.
But the results in humans weren’t as conclusive because results were inconsistent and duration too short.
Even with the inconclusive evidence, they still don’t recommend people taking lipid-lowering drugs except in cases where there is a short-term risk of coronary heart disease.
However, other publications state otherwise. In this article published at WebMD, HealthDay reporter Steven Reinberg says that cancer patients who take statins may live longer compared to patients who aren’t taking it.
Over a million cancer patients took part in that study – they took statins such as Lipitor and Crestor.
And these are the findings:
- 22% lower risk of dying from lung cancer
- 43% lower risk of dying from breast cancer
- 47% lower risk of dying from prostate cancer
- 30% lower risk of dying from colon cancer
Now, that same article also states that people who don’t have high cholesterol should avoid taking statins for cancer prevention. But it says that it can help lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Can I lower cholesterol naturally?
Research has shown that lowering LDL levels below 100 is good is essential to avoid cardiac arrest. But the magic number according to the Journal of American Medical Association (or JAMA) is 81.
Several other studies, one by JAMA and another by the New England Journal of Medicine, concludes that “lower is better” in terms of LDL count.
The latter study states that a total cholesterol level of 62 is better than 95 at preventing death, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular-related problems.
Unfortunately, large doses of statins were used in those studies.
And I’ve already disclosed the side effects of statins above but let me repeat it here. These include muscle pain, memory loss, and elevated liver enzymes.
Changing your diet
The two cornerstones of lowering cholesterol include changing your diet and exercise. But exercise alone will not be sufficient.
However, adding aerobic exercise to diet enhances the lipid-lowering effect of a healthy diet.
To lower cholesterol without high doses of statins will require some drastic changes in your diet.
1. Limiting (or eliminate) foods rich in trans fats, saturated fats, and dietary cholesterol
If you frequent fast food joints like Burger King or McDonald’s, you have to stop because a lot of items in their menu are high in trans-fat.
A McDonald’s cheeseburger, for instance, has 313 calories, 126 of them from fat ! Not only eating a cheeseburger increases your cholesterol, but it also makes you fat!
Foods high in saturated fat include red meat, full-fat or low-fat dairy products, coconut oil, and palm oil.
Foods high in dietary cholesterol consist of egg yolk, organ meats, and shellfish.
Eliminating saturated fats from our diet is impossible. So you’ll have to monitor intake and limit it to 20 grams for women and 30 grams for men.
Use healthy oil
Replacing the oil, you use in cooking will also help. Instead of using palm oil, why not try healthier versions such as olive, sunflower, corn, rapeseed, vegetable, nut, and seed oils.
Also, if you love meat or poultry, it would be best to limit it between 3.5 to 4 ounces per day.
Not all fat is bad. Some are beneficial to our health. One of which is Omega-3 fatty acid.
It does this by:
- Reducing triglyceride levels (between 15 to 30%) [5, 6]
- Lowering blood pressure levels [7, 8]
- Raising HDL levels (or “good” cholesterol) [9, 10, 11, 12]
- Prevent the buildup of plaque that could potential clog arteries [13, 14]
- Reduce inflammation [15, 16]
Best sources of Omega-3 fatty acid include salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and trout.
Eat these at least twice per week. If you’re going the canned tuna route, opt for low sodium.
2. Eat more fiber rich foods
There are two types of fiber – soluble & insoluble
The first type (soluble) dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. This type of fiber can lower cholesterol. Good sources of soluble fiber include peas, beans, barley, citrus fruits, apple, carrots, whole grain, and sweet potato.
The second type (insoluble) helps with bowel movement and rid your system of harmful toxins. Insoluble fiber can be found in whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, beans, nuts and veggies such as green beans, potato, and cauliflower.
According to Mayo Clinic, most plant-based foods like oatmeal and beans contain both.
3. More protein
I’m not talking about consuming steak here but plant-based proteins.
Some of these include:
Certain types of nuts and seeds can mildly lower LDL cholesterol. Nutritionists say that certain types of nuts have protein, antioxidants, nutrients, fiber, and healthy monounsaturated fats.
Studies have proven this. The FDA said in 2003 that eating a diet that includes one of these – almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts or pistachios can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Walnuts, in particular, are great because it is high in Omega-3 .
But don’t eat a bagful because nuts are high in calories (175 calories per ounce). The recommended daily serving would be an ounce. Also, avoid those with salt and go for raw, unsalted, or dry-roasted.
4. Lose the excess weight (and fat)
One of the most overlooked contributors to high cholesterol is excess body weight.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey said after their study that excess weight is associated with “deleterious changes in the lipoprotein profile.”
This means that men who are overweight will have a higher plasma triglyceride, lower HDL, and high LDL cholesterol .
The study revealed that maintaining ideal body weight is essential to reduce LDL cholesterol.
5. Eat foods fortified with plant sterols and stanols
Plant sterols and stanols are similar to cholesterol in terms of structure. And according to research, these can lower LDL cholesterol.
Ruth Frechman, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (or ADA), says that “Eating sterol and stanol-containing foods is an easy way to lower your LDL cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease” .
Foods such as grains, fruits, legumes, seeds, and nuts contain these substances in small amounts.
Plant sterols and stanols work by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the bloodstream and flush them out as waste.
O.J. to the rescue
One study done by the California Davis Medical Center revealed that adults who consumed orange juice fortified with plant sterols had a 12.4% drop in their cholesterol levels.
Getting enough sterols through diet alone may not be enough, that’s why the Pritikin Longevity Center recommends taking plant sterol supplements like CholestOff.
Taking supplements eliminates added sugars, trans-fat, calories, and salt found in food or products enriched with plant sterols.
6. Avoid refined sugars and grains
Fat isn’t the only reason why your cholesterol is high.
Unless you’re eating a diet rich in trans-fat, only 25% of the cholesterol comes from the food you eat according to the American Heart Association.
Refined sugar is another culprit
Consuming large amounts of sugar not only contributes to obesity and diabetes, but it also raises LDL and triglyceride to unhealthy levels .
It also lowers “good” cholesterol (or HDL) – the very thing that helps flush out “bad” cholesterol.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 100 calories for women and 150 calories in men. That would translate to 6 and nine tablespoons, respectively .
To put it in perspective, a 12 ounce can of coke contains around 8 to 10 tablespoons of sugar. Cereal that has 16 grams of sugar has four teaspoons.
Refined sugars come from sodas and juices. Drinking these types of beverages can give you a sugar rush. Without dietary fiber that slows the absorption process, it goes directly to the bloodstream.
Cutting down or eliminating processed sugar will go a long way in reducing your cholesterol levels.
7. Try Some Black Garlic
Black garlic may be the plant kingdom’s best-kept secret when it comes to keeping cholesterol levels healthy.
Whereas prescription medication lowers both LDL and HDL, black garlic increases HDL or “good” cholesterol and decreases LDL or bad cholesterol, creating a healthy balance between the two.
Research shows that black cholesterol is high in S-allyl cysteine that lowers LDL levels and improved blood lipid profiles .
To Wrap Up
The process of lowering bad cholesterol naturally is a complicated process that involves a diet makeover.
But the sacrifice is worth it if you value your health and family over food indulgence.
If you have any more tips you can share, please comment below. And if you think this article is helpful, please do share it to your friends at different social media channels like Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.