Beyond Diet and Exercise: Alternative Approaches to Lowering Cholesterol
For some people, diet and exercise just won’t be enough to lower their cholesterol. But there’s one more step before moving on to prescription medication. There’s a lot of scientific evidence that certain alternative approaches can successfully improve cholesterol.
Niacin is actually a B vitamin that has been shown to not only lower LDL and triglycerides, but also to raise HDL. When taken in doses in the area of 1,500 to 3,000 mg per day, LDL levels are usually reduced by about 5% -15%, and up to 25% in some patients.
Also called nicotinic acid or vitamin B3, it decreases production of particles in the liver that are necessary for carrying cholesterol and fat in the bloodstream. Although it is a B vitamin, the high dosages required to affect cholesterol should be taken only under a physician’s supervision.
Such high doses are considered “pharmacologic” and must be prescribed by a qualified healthcare practitioner. The practitioner will instruct you on how to increase the amount of niacin slowly, over the course of 4 to 6 weeks, and to take the medicine with meals to avoid stomach irritation.
Phytosterols are naturally occurring plant compounds that block the body from absorbing cholesterol. Their chemical make-up is similar to cholesterol, so that they fool the body and block the absorption of cholesterol. Phytosterols are benign and not absorbed by the body.
| Food sources highest in phytosterols:
Wheat germGood secondary sources of phytosterols:
Plant Stanols and Sterols
Plant stanols and sterols occur naturally in small amounts in many plants. Those used in certain food products are taken from soybean and tall pine tree oils. Plant stanols and sterols help block the absorption of cholesterol from the digestive tract, which therefore helps to lower LDL. Studies show that a daily intake of about 2 grams of either stanols or sterols reduces LDL cholesterol by about 5% – 15% often within weeks.
Stanol and sterol esters can be found branded margarines. The product, Benecol contains stanol ester while Take Control contains sterol ester. Both Benecol and Take Control are low in saturated fat and trans fat and are considered healthy margarines.
Turmeric, the spicy yellow ingredient found in Indian food, contains the active ingredient, curcumin. Recent research suggests that curcumin may reduce cholesterol by interfering with intestinal cholesterol uptake, increasing the conversion of cholesterol into bile acids, and increasing the excretion of bile acids. Curcumin has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may help prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol to a more dangerous form that is more likely to end up in your arteries.
Medical authors such as Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Nicolas Perricone advise copious amounts of turmeric in your diet for a host of health reasons, not to mention the flavor – Bon Appetit.
Red Rice Yeast Extract
Originating in Asia, red rice yeast extract derives from the activities of red yeast on rice and the byproduct has been proven to lower cholesterol. It contains the same ingredient found in prescription statin drugs, and statin drugs have a physiological effect on the liver. Consequently, the use of red rice yeast extract should be considered risky and not taken without consulting your physician.
The Indian Guggul
Guggulipid is extracted from guggul and also contains plant sterols. Guggul is a yellowish resin produced by the mukul mirth tree, a small, thorny plant that grows throughout northern India. Several studies suggest guggul and guggulipid lower cholesterol levels. However, the jury is still out on this one and more evidence may be needed.
When All Else Fails: The Use of Statin Drugs
If all diet, exercise and alternative measures fail, then a prescription route may need to be followed. Again, remember all those sorcerer’s brooms building up cholesterol in your arteries year after year, you don’t want to let this go.
The advent of powerful cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins (with brand names such as Crestor, Lipitor, Zocor, and the like) has made it possible for virtually anyone to safely slash total and LDL cholesterol. Discuss this option with your family doctor.
Unfortunately, statins are costly and have side effects. And worst of all, once started you’re on them for life. According to the NIH, “Statins stop an enzyme that controls the rate at which the body produces cholesterol. They lower LDL levels more than other types of drugs-about 20% -55% -and also moderately lower triglycerides and raise HDL.
Heart Disease is the number one killer in the U.S. Science to date attributes the depositing of plaque on artery walls via excess cholesterol as a major contributor. Control this substance now and you can mitigate the risk of heart disease later in life. Extreme cases will require prescription medication and close monitoring by a physician.
As always, prevention is best. However, the simple, but permanent, lifestyle changes outlined in this piece can cut it off at the pass.