How to lower cholesterol levels

by Tracey Pollack

If you have been looking high and low for ways to lower your cholesterol, you’re not alone. High cholesterol is one of the most common health problems today. So what is cholesterol? There is LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol encourages a waxy plaque to build up in your arteries, which can lead to heart disease and other conditions. HDL cholesterol clears this plaque from your arteries and removes it from your body, which reduces your risk of these problems. Together, these form your “total” cholesterol levels. The way to improve your overall cholesterol is make changes that lower your LDL levels and raise your HDL levels.

Luckily, you can easily make these changes and lower your cholesterol with these six switches and swaps.

  1. Tip the Scale in Your Favor

Extra pounds increase your odds of having high LDL cholesterol levels and can lead to the development of heart disease, so you shouldn’t wait to lose weight. But you don’t need to lose a lot to improve your cholesterol levels. According to Healthline, any weight loss can increase your HDL cholesterol, while decreasing LDL levels. No matter how much you want to lose, start by making small changes. Reach out to a friend when you’re upset instead of reaching for Ben & Jerry’s. Munch on fresh fruit or vegetables instead of chips or cookies. And park at the farthest spot in the parking lot to sneak in a bit more activity. All of these little changes can add up to big results.

  1. Get Your Fill of Fiber-Rich Foods

Fiber is your friend when cholesterol is the enemy, so reach for foods that are full of soluble fiber. Just be aware that fiber comes in different forms, with one called soluble fiber and the other known as insoluble fiber. While both are good for your heart, it’s soluble fiber that’s great for your cholesterol. In addition to making you feel full, soluble fiber can actually reduce the amount of cholesterol your body absorbs. According to the Mayo Clinic, eating at least five to 10 grams of soluble fiber each day can lower both your LDL and total cholesterol levels. So better fill up your kitchen, along your body, with fiber-filled foods.

Trans fats increase your LDL cholesterol, reduce your HDL levels and raise your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic conditions. Trans fats lurk in fried foods, stick margarine, cookies, crackers, cakes, pie crusts and frozen pizza. Today, some food manufacturers are removing them from their products, but the only way to tell if a product is trans fat-free is to read labels while you’re shopping. Avoid products that list “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients, since this is just a sneaky name for trans fats.

An easy way to make the switch from trans fats is by replacing them with unsaturated fats, which don’t increase your LDL cholesterol, according to WebMD. Unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, canola oil, vegetable and sunflower oils, as well as fish, nuts, seeds and avocados. Just as unsaturated fats are healthy choices, unsaturated fats are not. Be sure to limit your intake of unsaturated fats, which are found in fatty meats, cold cuts, whole milk, whole-milk cheeses and many store-bought baked goods and snacks. Instead, enjoy lean cuts of meat, skim milk, low-fat cheeses and yogurt, and wholesome snacks to trim down your cholesterol levels. 

If you’re getting worked up over high cholesterol, then start working out. Daily exercise can help raise your HDL cholesterol levels and reduce your LDL cholesterol, while protecting you from many health conditions. Begin by choosing an activity that sounds like fun to avoid “workout burn-out.” Consider jogging, brisk walking, cycling, tennis, swimming or hitting the gym. Find an exercise partner to make the activity more enjoyable and help you stay on track. And while exercise can lower your cholesterol, it can also reduce your stress and anxiety. So working up a sweat can also save you from sweating the small stuff.

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If you smoke, it’s time to pack it in. According to the American Heart Association, smoking reduces your HDL cholesterol levels, while increasing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. If you’re a smoker, you need to quit. Once you stop smoking, you can significantly improve your HDL cholesterol level very quickly and start protecting your heart. And if you’re a non-smoker, you need to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke to prevent your health from going up in smoke.

Try these six tweaks, trims and tips to level out your cholesterol levels.

What Does natural Cholesterol Reduction Even Mean?

When we say we’re aiming to lower cholesterol levels naturally, what we’re really talking about is the use of herbs, nutrition, and lifestyle choices to reduce serum cholesterol levels.

There are a few methods of reducing cholesterol with diet, and herbal medicines:

  1. Eliminating trans-fat from the diet
  2. Increasing fiber content in the diet
  3. Drinking plenty of water
  4. Consuming more bitter foods and beverages
  5. Taking specific daily herbal supplements
  6. Reducing sugar intake
  7. Eat plenty of antioxidants

ARTICHOKE

(Cynara scolymus)

Artichoke is delicious vegetable, as well as a potent anti-cholesterol herb. The part eaten is the unopened flower. The tops are picked just before they open, and are eaten as a delicacy or desert. They were incredibly popular by ancient Mediterranean cultures where they grew native. The Romans and Ancient Egyptians were huge fans, serving them at nearly every feast or celebration.

Though the tops are also beneficial for cholesterol levels, it is the leaves that are most valued as medicine. Traditionally this was mainly for liver complaints like jaundice (yellowing of the skin as a result of a weak liver), hepatitis (swollen liver), and indigestion (the liver is a key organ of digestion).

Inside the artichoke plant, exists a highly bitter substance known as cynarin, and another known as luteolin. These is thought to be the active constituent of the artichoke plant in terms of liver and cholesterol levels. It’s been shown in numerous clinical trials since the early 1970’s to have an anti-cholesterol action. The effects are mainly due to an inhibition of cholesterol synthesis itself, but also through an increase in the secretion of bile, which is made from cholesterol in the liver. This bile is concentrated cholesterol, which is then injected into the gut to aid digestion of fats and proteins. Thus eliminating excess cholesterol from the liver.

To take artichoke, purchase capsulated leaves, or an extract of the leaves like a tincture or liquid extract.

There are plenty of other herbs for reducing cholesterol levels. Some of these include chinnamon, garlic, and schisandra. Stay tuned as we will be discussing these herbs in more detail in the near future.

Justin Cooke

The Sunlight Experiment

References:

  1. Chrysant, S. G. (2015). Coffee Consumption and Cardiovascular Health. The American Journal of Cardiology, 116(5), 818-821. doi:10.1016/j.amjcard.2015.05.057
  2. Geleijnse, J. M., Witteman, J. C. M., Bak, A. A. A., Den Breijen, J. H., & Grobbee, D. E. (1994). Reduction in blood pressure with a low sodium, high potassium, high magnesium salt in older subjects with mild to moderate hypertension. Bmj, 309(6952), 436-440.
  3. Wardle, J., & Sarris, J. (2010). Clinical naturopathy: An evidence-based guide to practice. Chatswood, N.S.W: Elsevier Australia.
  4. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2016). Leading causes of death (AIHW). Retrieved November 29, 2016, from https://www.aihw.gov.au/deaths/leading-causes-of-death/
  5. Centers for disease control and prevention. (2016). FastStats – Leading Causes of Death. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
  6. Statistics Canada. (2015). The 10 leading causes of death, 2011. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from https://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2014001/article/11896-eng.htm
  7. Li, J. J. (2009). Triumph of the heart : The story of statins. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=269642
  8. Ghirlanda, G; Oradei, A; Manto, A; Lippa, S; Uccioli, L; Caputo, S; Greco, AV; Littarru, GP (1993). “Evidence of plasma CoQ10-lowering effect by HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study”. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 33 (3): 226–9. doi:10.1002/j.1552-4604.1993.tb03948.x. PMID 8463436
  9. Ho, MJ; Li, EC; Wright, JM (March 3, 2016). “Blood pressure lowering efficacy of coenzyme Q10 for primary hypertension.”. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews (3): CD007435. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007435.pub
  10. Gesquière, L., Loreau, N., Minnich, A., Davignon, J., & Blache, D. (1999). Oxidative stress leads to cholesterol accumulation in vascular smooth muscle cells. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 27(1-2), 134-145. doi:10.1016/s0891-5849(99)00055-6
  11. Kearns CE, Schmidt LA, Glantz SA. Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease ResearchA Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(11):1680-1685. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5394
  12. Kathrin Becker, Simon Geisler, Florian Ueberall, Dietmar Fuchs and Johanna M. Gostner. (2013). Immunomodulatory properties of cacao extracts – potential consequences for medical applications. Frontiers in Pharmacology. vol 4. Article 154. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2013.00154
  13. Bryant, B. J., Knights, K. M., & Salerno, E. (2010). Pharmacology for health professionals. Chatswood, N.S.W: Elsevier Australia.
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Why is LDL cholesterol unhealthy and HDL cholesterol healthy?

An unhealthily high level of cholesterol is called hypercholesterolaemia. A total cholesterol level less than 200 mg/dl (milligrams of cholesterol per decilitre of blood) is considered desirable. Cholesterol concentrations of 200-239 mg/dl are deemed to be borderline high risk, while levels of 240 mg/dl or more are considered to put one at high risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Excess LDL cholesterol will build up on the artery walls, forming deposits of cholesterol called plaques. A build up of plaques in the arteries will make them narrower and may eventually block blood flow to the heart. This narrowing of blood arteries, called atherosclerosis, can restrict blood supply to the heart, impairing oxygen and nutrient supplies. Such a situation can lead to chest pain known as angina. Furthermore, plaques can rupture, causing blood clots that may lead to heart attack, stroke, or sudden death.

Plaque formationInformation on re-publishing of our images

This explains why LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, can remove some of the cholesterol already attached to the artery walls. HDL makes it less likely that excess cholesterol in the blood will be deposited in the coronary arteries, which is why HDL cholesterol is often referred to as the “good” cholesterol.

In general, the higher your LDL and the lower your HDL, the greater your risk for atherosclerosis and heart disease. Therefore, the guiding principle is to strive for low bad cholesterol and high good cholesterol.

Achieving and maintaining optimal blood cholesterol levels

Dietary changes are often the first things attempted to try to lower cholesterol levels. Losing weight, exercising and cutting down on “bad” fats are the cornerstones of a cholesterol-lowering lifestyle. Also, the excess calories that you consume, regardless of where they come from (carbohydrates, fats or protein), will be transformed into triglycerides for storage as body fat.

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Nutrition for lowering cholesterolIn order to lower triglycerides, the following measures may be useful:

  • Avoid excessive food intake and maintain an active lifestyle by exercising regularly. Physical activity can help raise HDL levels and thereby lower cholesterol level.
  • Eat a healthy diet low in saturated fats and trans fats. This can be achieved by:
    • Using low fat dairy products
    • Trimming meat purchased from shops of any visible fats
    • Cooking with oil from vegetable sources (e.g. olive, peanuts, soya, and canola) instead of animal derived fats (e.g. butter).
  • Try to limit the amount of trans fats. A study conducted in the USA by the Institute of Medicine has concluded that there is no safe level of trans fats in the diet.
  • Include the consumption of foods high in soluble fibre (e.g. whole grains, kidney beans, barley, oatmeal and fruits such as apples and pears). Soluble fibre lowers the bad LDL cholesterol without lowering the good HDL cholesterol. 5-10 grams of soluble fibre a day decreases LDL cholesterol by about 5%.
  • Limit sugar intake by avoiding sweetened beverages (soft drinks, some juices, tea/coffee with sugar added).
  • Limit excessive intake of alcohol.
  • Include foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids (e.g. salmon and flax seed), which has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. Omega 3 fatty acids in particular are noted for their triglyceride-lowering power. Studies suggest that eating just 6 oz per week of fatty (dark meat) fish (e.g. salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines) may be enough to reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by 36%.
  • Moderate consumption of nuts rich in fibre, phyto-nutrients and antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium will help lower the bad LDL cholesterol.
  • Include foods fortified with plant sterols because they have the ability to block cholesterol absorption.
  • Monitor your weight and maintain a healthy body weight at all times. You can easily calculate your body mass index (BMI) to find out whether your weight falls within the healthy range.

This information will be collected for educational purposes, however it will remain anonymous.

More information

Cholesterol For more information on cholesterol, including the health effects of high cholesterol and ways to lower cholesterol levels, as well as some useful tools, see Cholesterol.
Nutrition For more information on nutrition, including information on types and composition of food, nutrition and people, conditions related to nutrition, and diets and recipes, as well as some useful videos and tools, see Nutrition.

References

  1. Mensink RP, Zock PL, Kester AD, Katan MB. Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: A meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77(5):1146-55. [Abstract | Full text]
  2. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2002. [Book]
  3. Brown L, Rosner B, Willett WW, Sacks FM. Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fibre: A meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;69(1):30-42. [Abstract | Full text]
  4. Lipsky H, Gloger M, Frishman WH. Dietary fiber for reducing blood cholesterol. J Clin Pharmacol. 1990;30(8):699-703. [Abstract]
  5. Mozaffarian D, Rimm EB. Fish intake, contaminants, and human health: Evaluating the risks and the benefits. JAMA. 2006;296(15):1885-99. [Abstract | Full text]
  6. Thomsen AB, Hansen HB, Christiansen C, Green H, Berger A. Effect of free plant sterols in low-fat milk on serum lipid profile in hypercholesterolemic subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2004;58(6):860-70. [Abstract | Full text]

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