4 tips on lowering cholesterol naturally
Okay, first thing is first. Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol is NOT bad for us!
Cholesterol is so important that every cell in the body has the ability to make it. Without it, we wouldn't be able to survive. It helps form our cell membranes, it is used to make many different hormones including testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, vitamin D, cortisol, and many more.
Doctors have traditionally instructed patients with high risk of heart health conditions to reduce their cholesterol intake because we used to think that cholesterol was the culprit in arterial plaque formations. We now realize that cholesterol is only a piece of the puzzle. It's so much more complex than we thought. And we're still learning more every year!
The term cholesterol is used loosely in the general population. There are different types of fats/cholesterol that we measure in blood work (we actually measure the transport vessels in the blood called lipoproteins- these carry the cholesterol and different fats in the blood). Some are considered "good" others are considered "bad". Ideally, we want to lower the "bad cholesterol" and increase the "good cholesterol".
So let's say we actually have a high cardiovascular risk and have high "bad" cholesterol/triglycerides.
How do we lower this number and improve cardiovascular health?
Tip #1: Reduce fatty red meat. This actually has less to do with cholesterol and more to do with triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat that is directly correlated with poor heart health. We get it from animal meats. I'm not saying to completely cut out red meat (we get lots of vitamins and minerals from it that are more difficult to absorb from plant material). I'm saying to simply reduce the fatty red meats, like burgers and steak.
P.s. This doesn't include eggs. The idea that eggs are bad for us is a myth.
Tip #2: Reduce simple carbohydrates. These are things like pastry, white bread, white rice, pasta, and sweets. The reason being that when you over indulge in these foods with a high amount of sugar, the liver works extra hard to convert said sugar into fat as storage for later use. The amount of fat produced by this process is often a lot more than the fat you would eat. This process can also lead to fatty liver (Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease- NAFLD).
Tip #3: Eat more fiber. This is where the vegetables come in. Eat your veggies people! This is the most important part of any treatment towards heart health . The research is unquestionable. The ONLY way we can remove cholesterol from our body is through bile. Bile is a digestive fluid made by the liver and stored in the gall bladder. Bile is made from cholesterol (and other things). It is released when we eat something fatty (because it helps to digest it). If there's fiber in the gut when bile is released, it will bind to it and the body won't be able to reabsorb it (otherwise the body is very good at re-absorbing it). Instead, you will end up defecating the fiber with the bile attached to it. This means if you have fiber in your gut, you will excrete more bile. If you excrete bile, the liver will have to tap into your cholesterol stores to make more bile. Keep up this cycle and your cholesterol stores eventually get smaller and smaller. I often instruct my patients (whether they have high cholesterol or not) to make sure that at least half their plates are full of different types of vegetables. A similar effect can be achieved by adding ground flax, chia seeds and/or psyllium husk to your daily diet. They're all forms of extra fiber.
Side note: bitter foods help the gall bladder release more bile, so make sure to get at those bitter veggies/herbs!
Tip #4: Eat fish or get on a fish oil supplement! Fish oil has been shown to reduce LDL ("bad") and increase HDL ("good") cholesterol. Quality and dosage matters.
There are other supplements to help in not only lowering cholesterol, but in improving heart health overall. These supplements include vitamin B3 (niacin- the flushing type), garlic, phytosterols, hibiscus, artichoke, ginger, and many more. It is best to talk to your ND about these as there can be negative side effects even to natural supplements.
The last thing I will leave you with is this. We typically try to reduce cholesterol because we want to improve heart health. Well we now know that cholesterol isn't the culprit. It's actually damage to the inside walls of the arteries. There's a complex reaction that happens as a result of damage to the inner lining of these walls that eventually leads to plaques forming. This is where we need to direct our treatment. At the root of the problem. Reduce oxidative damage. We do this by reducing things that cause this damage to the inside walls of the arteries (processed sugars, processed foods, preservatives, inflammatory foods...etc) and increasing protective substances such as antioxidant-rich foods. We get antioxidants from..... You guessed it. Fruits and veggies!