Ways to Reduce Cholesterol
Dr. R. Golan
My cholesterol is high. I want to reduce my risk of heart attack. But somehow I just can't
see myself being a vegetarian for more than a week, nor can I see myself on a drug for the
next several decades or more. What are some other ways to lower cholesterol?
A: Optimizing cholesterol levels is
certainly important, and there are many natural and safe measures I recommend to my
patients before considering cholesterol-lowering drugs. As you likely know, it is the
total cholesterol and specifically the unfavorable LDL cholesterol fraction
that we want to lower, while increasing the favorable HDL cholesterol fraction. Hereditary
influences play a large role in determining these levels, but there is a significant
effect that you can achieve from a combination of measures.
one, you should ask your doctor to make sure that you do not have a sluggish thyroid. It
is your liver's metabolism that largely controls your cholesterol levels, and how your
liver metabolizes is largely controlled by your thyroid. I have seen cholesterol levels
drop over 50 points from simply correcting a thyroid deficiency.
Two well-known ways to lower blood cholesterol levels
are to reduce dietary saturated fat and increase exercise. Both of these measures often
help people to lose weight, too, which in itself will lower cholesterol levels
significantly (as well as blood pressure). For instance, the well-known Ornish and
Pritikin diets call for a drastic reduction of all kinds of fat.
However, these high fiber, high complex-carbohydrate,
low fat and vegetarian (or near vegetarian) diets do not work for a significant number of
people. They cannot lose weight and cannot lower their cholesterol or triglyceride levels
on what seems to be such a healthy diet, even with regular exercise. In my practice, I
have seen many such discouraged patients in this situation. There seems to be an
increasing percentage of our population for which a high carbohydrate diet is wrong.
Carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels, which in turn stimulate the pancreas to secrete
insulin, which lowers blood sugar levels. However, for many individuals a high or
relatively high-carbohydrate diet will cause an excess of insulin, with many unfavorable
effects: increased storage of fat, weight gain, less favorable cholesterol/HDL ratio,
inflammation and other problems.
is eaten, however, it stimulates the pancreas to release another hormone, glucagon, which
triggers the opposite effects of insulin. It causes the body to burn fat, lose weight,
raise HDL cholesterol levels, lessen inflammation and more. It is through sugar reduction
and even the healthy complex carbohydrate reduction that triglyceride levels also come
down. For these reasons, in recent years we have seen many proponents of higher
protein/lower carbohydrate diets (which are not necessarily very low in fat) for weight
control, cholesterol control and health maintenance.
It is not
easy for me to determine the optimal diet for each of my patients. As awkward as this may
sound, it often requires trial and error, like many things in modern medicine. There is no one diet that is correct for everyone.
Hopefully, your doctor, nutritionist or other health-care practitioner can steer you in
the right direction.
In addition to adjusting the diet, I often recommend
supplemental fiber, primarily a soluble type such as oat bran, which binds to intestinal
cholesterol and facilitates its excretion. In so doing, the liver is obligated to secrete
more cholesterol into the intestine and less into the bloodstream thereby lowering
total and LDL cholesterol levels. Fiber also encourages the growth of the favorable
intestinal acidophilus and bifidus bacteria. One function of these organisms is to produce
acetic acid which inhibits cholesterol synthesis in the liver and therefore lowers
blood levels of cholesterol.
Several nutritional supplements also can lower total
and LDL cholesterol levels and raise HDL cholesterol: the vitamins C, E, niacin and B-6;
the minerals chromium, magnesium and copper; the amino acid N-acetylcysteine; the
essential fatty acids in omega-3 fish oils and flax oil; and garlic (as a supplement or
added to food). An ayurvedic herb, gugulipid, an extract from the Indian mukul myrrh tree,
is also an effective agent for improving cholesterol levels. I recommend many of these to
my patients, in combination formulas and as single agents.
Stress reduction also may help. A study in an Israeli
medical journal demonstrated a 20 percent drop in total cholesterol levels in participants
who did a relaxation exercise just five minutes twice a day. There is a huge body of
research suggesting that how we handle stress can determine in no small way our
susceptibility to heart disease and many other illnesses.
For those with significant arterial disease, I will
recommend chelation therapy, an intravenous nutritional/medical treatment which can safely
reverse plaque. Some physicians use it preventively as well. I believe that thousands of
yearly coronary bypass surgeries could be prevented if chelation therapy became widely
It is mostly
what we can do for ourselves that can help prevent heart attacks: the right diet,
nutritional supplements, exercise, relaxation and stress management. Drugs have their
place in this big picture, but a much smaller place, I personally believe, than modern
medicine has given them. If just one of these self-care measures can significantly
decrease cholesterol levels or minimize other cardiac risks, it would not be a big stretch
to say that the combined effects of implementing the whole program could have a profound
effect, not just on cholesterol levels and heart disease, but on total health.
Good Health Return