The Natural Route: Try Diet and Exercise First
Should you discover that you have elevated LDL cholesterol and a low HDL factor, your doctor will most likely insist that you immediately go on a statin drug. Forgive her. It’s not her fault, that’s the training doctors get in Western medicine — a system that only reimburses for drugs and surgery and not diet and lifestyle changes.
But we also live in an era of the educated patient, and you have the right to collaborate with your doctor to try alternative means before going on statin drugs for the rest of your life. So discuss the natural route first to see if you can get your numbers in the healthy range.
But also realize that your doctor probably has received no training in nutrition or exercise to help prescribe a program to you. She will most likely tell you to eliminate red meat and dairy products and walk or exercise more. For some, this may be enough, but for many it will not and bigger changes in diet and exercise will need to be implemented to affect improvement.
The Value of Aerobic Exercise
Exercise is a proven way to improve cholesterol. It sets off a series of enzymatic reactions in the body that increase HDL and lower triglycerides.
Probably the person most credited for launching the aerobics craze of the eighties, was Dr. Kenneth Cooper in his landmark book, Aerobics.
According to Dr. Kenneth Cooper, regular aerobic exercise will contribute to increasing HDL and lowering triglycerides.
He’s also written sequel books on exercising for better health, including improving one’s cholesterol. In his book Controlling Cholesterol The Natural Way, Cooper advises:
“We’ve known for a long time that exercise – especially aerobic exercise done over a sustained period of 20 to 30 minutes or so at least 3 days per week – can raise the level of “good’ HDL cholesterol by 5-10%… another fact that we have known for a while is that exercise can lower levels of blood triglycerides… [this] involves the release during exercise of an enzyme known as lipoprotein lipase, or LPL, which breaks down the triglycerides for use as body fuel.”
Therefore regular aerobic exercise, walking, jogging, biking, say 3 times per week for 30 minutes even at only 50% of aerobic maximum will burn up triglycerides while stimulating more HDL…not to mention how good it will make you feel.
|A Healthy Story…
James is a walking testament that exercise and nutrition can improve HDL.
He exercised off and on his entire life, mostly running, biking and strength training.
But last May his total cholesterol count climbed to 208, well into the borderline range. he wasn’t that worried about it since his HDL factor was 3.2, below Dr. Cooper’s 3.5 prescribed threshold for health risk.
He went on Lipitor briefly, but quickly got off because he was experiencing side effects. So he committed to stepping up his nutrition and exercise regimen even more to improve his HDL factor the natural way.
Although he kept his ongoing strength training routine using a mixture of free weights and Nautilus machines, he added a twice-per-week racquetball routine to the mix — something that he enjoys and doesn’t even realize that he’s exercising.
By the following January his HDL level improved by another 30 mg/dL, and that improved his HDL factor to an even healthier 2.72.
Only time will tell if he can stay in the healthy zone strictly through exercise and nutrition, but he figures that every year that is drug free is a good year.
Stress Management Through Yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi
Daily stress raises your cholesterol levels. Therefore any form of stress-management technique may help lower it. All forms of exercise will relieve stress and keep you in the “present moment.” In particular, mind-body exercise that emphasizes concentration on breath, such as yoga, Pilates and tai chi, are exceptional forms of stress management.
Specific Dietary Changes to Lower LDL
One could write books on all the various foods that affect some component of cholesterol. One basic concept to understand is that cholesterol comes from two sources, the food you eat and your own body. The cholesterol in your system from diet is only about 20%. That means 80% is manufactured by your liver.
There is much inconclusive discussion on whether eliminating dietary cholesterol has any affect on health at all. But again, based on current science, it is recommended that the intake of dietary cholesterol be minimized. This underscores the importance of reading those food labels.
The elimination of high cholesterol items such as milk products and egg yolks is healthier anyway. Milk products are high in saturated fats and egg yolks are high in arachidonic acid, and their reduced intake is good for overall health.
Limiting Dietary Cholesterol
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute advise that you limit dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams per day. Certain foods with high concentrations of dietary cholesterol should be limited. Beef, pork and bacon have anywhere from 80 to 90 mg. of cholesterol per 3 ½ once serving. Lamb has 122 mg. and veal 128 mg. Fried chicken with the skin on is an unhealthy 167 mg., while roasting it with the skin off is a healthier 85 mg., the same as turkey. Boiled shrimp tops the list with 195 mg. per serving.
Limit Daily Intake of Saturated Fats
Saturated fat raises your blood cholesterol more than anything else in your diet. Americans eat an average of 11% of their total calories as saturated fat. Your liver uses saturated fat to make LDL cholesterol.
Saturated fat is identifiable as a solid at room and refrigerator temperatures. It is found in the greatest amount in foods from animals, such as fatty cuts of meat, poultry with the skin on, whole-milk dairy products and lard, as well as in some vegetable oils, including tropical oils like coconut and palm oils.
Eliminate All Trans Fats
Trans fats are bad for a number of reasons, only one being that it increases cholesterol. Although the package for margarine may say 0% cholesterol, the bad news is that it stimulates the liver’s production of cholesterol.
Trans fatty acids are formed when liquid vegetable oils go through a chemical process called hydrogenation. Common in a range of food products – biscuits, chips, doughnuts, crackers – the hydrogenated vegetable fat is used by food processors because it is solid at room temperature and has a longer shelf life.
So, as you read those food labels, eliminate all foods that contain the phrase hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.
Eat Fewer High Glycemic Foods
High glycemic foods turn to glucose very quickly in the bloodstream and are generally bad for health for a number of reasons . You should eat fewer simple carbohydrates such as sugar, white flour, white rice, and high-fructose corn syrup, which can markedly increase your triglycerides. These should be offset with lower glycemic foods like unrefined, complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and soy products.
Foods That Improve Cholesterol
O.K., now that have a list of items to either eliminate or reduce in your diet, there are others that you should try to increase in your diet to improve your cholesterol make-up.
Soluble Fiber Inhibits the Absorption of Cholesterol
In addition to reducing the intake of dietary cholesterol, another remedy is to block your absorption of cholesterol in the first place and that’s where soluble fiber does the trick nicely.
Soluble fiber dissolves into a gel-like substance in the intestines. The substance helps to block cholesterol and fats from being absorbed through the wall of the intestines into the blood stream. Research shows that people who increased their soluble fiber intake by 5 – 10 grams each day had about a 5% drop in their LDL cholesterol. The NIH recommends that you get at least 5 – 10 grams of soluble fiber a day-and, preferably, 10-25 grams a day, which will lower your LDL even more.
Brussels sprouts, pinto beans, navy beans, lima beans, kidney beans, black beans, pears (with skin), whole citrus fruits (not juice), and psyllium are high sources of soluble fiber.
The Value of Oats
Oats should be part of your daily diet to control cholesterol. Oats contain Beta-glucan, which has also been shown to lower LDL. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service have developed a new oat variety containing higher levels of beta-glucan. This variety may soon allow food manufacturers to offer smaller portions of whole oat products that will pack the same health benefits as ordinary oats. Also on the horizon is “HiFi”, which is not a stereo system but a new strain of oat that lowers LDL even further.
According to Dr. Shela Gorinstein of Hebrew University, one red grapefruit a day will keep the cholesterol away and help prevent heart disease. Her team’s study published in the March 2006 issue of Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that red grapefruit (more so than white grapefruit) was effective in lowering cholesterol, although it is not yet clear as to why.
To be continued in next post…