Advice For How To Improve Your Cholesterol Naturally
Diet, lifestyle and natural medicine recommendations to lower cholesterol
You are going for your annual physical and expect everything to be status quo.
You know you have a couple extra pounds and sure there is a lot of stress at work, but you feel great. You get your preliminary bloodwork and head to the doctors.
What? Everything was fine the previous year, how could your cholesterol be getting high?
Well, that was last year and now you are headed back for your recheck. Your doctor told you that you needed to work on lowering your cholesterol and now it is check-up time again.
Seriously, you had good intentions of eating healthy and exercising, but life got in the way.
You went to the grocery store and bought healthy food and you even signed up for a gym membership. It was just too hard to find time to get to the gym and all those vegetables went bad in the fridge because you were always getting home late.
Now you are headed back for the dreaded recheck and you still haven’t made the lifestyle changes.
You feel super guilty.
Ugh! You don’t want to go on medication but are uncertain how to go about lowering your cholesterol. You try to make changes, but can’t seem to stick to a plan.
Your doctor said eat a heart healthy diet, but what exactly does this mean? How do you do this when you are traveling for work and busy running around after your kids? It is not like you can go to Amazon and put a cholesterol lowering diet into your shopping cart.
You feel like you need help; someone to tell you what to do.
What foods do you need to buy and how should you cook them?
And since you are super busy at work, you need help figuring out how to make this all happen?
That is where nutrition counseling can help, but let’s start with some ideas now.
What exactly is Cholesterol?
First, let’s think about why you want to lower your cholesterol. It isn’t just so you can look good at that dreaded recheck.
It is because there are health risks with the high cholesterol and you want to live your best life!
High cholesterol can lead to cardiovascular disease which is the leading cause of death around the world. And if you are getting older, have diabetes, or high blood pressure this can add to your risk.
Cholesterol is not all bad though. It is also needed for many body functions like cell membranes and hormones. I am sure you have heard there are two types of cholesterol. In simple terms, the “good” and the “bad”. Here is a great way to remember which is which:
LDL is the bad and therefore you want to keep it Low and
HDL is the good and therefore you want to keep it High.
The LDL or “bad” cholesterol when at high levels can cause plaque buildup in arteries and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, 31.7% of adults in the United States have high cholesterol. At your last check up if your doctor said you have high cholesterol, likely your LDL was 190 mg/dL or higher.
The Most Common Ways to Lower Cholesterol
Your doctor may recommend a statin medication. Statins work by decreasing the natural process of production of cholesterol in the liver. As cholesterol is needed for the body’s vital functions, taking statin drugs which interfere with cholesterol production in the liver could cause side effects.
While the statins may prove to be necessary, you can lower your cholesterol naturally with diet and lifestyle.
Statins can have side effects. They can lower your nutrients and leave you feeling tired or affect your muscles or liver function.
It is in your power to make changes to lower your cholesterol naturally. Cholesterol can be managed by eating a heart healthy diet including fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and possibly including some herbal medicine recommendations. These lifestyle recommendations do not interfere with the body’s normal functioning and the only side effects are feeling better.
Natural Medicines for Lowering Cholesterol
There are herbal medicines and vitamins, which can help with high cholesterol. In addition to diet changes, several herbs and vitamins have shown promising results in lowering LDL. Two common herbal options are garlic and curcumin. The vitamin B3, otherwise known as Niacin has also been used successfully to lower cholesterol.
With all of the evidence for natural products lowering LDL, this can be a fun way to add more cholesterol lowering options to your health plan. The products can both be used in food as flavorings or taken in supplement form depending on your preference.
It is easy to add garlic to just about any dish you are making. Imagine making your food taste better and lowering your LDL at the same time!
Garlic has been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes. Interestingly enough, ancient Indian texts suggest its use for heart conditions (Varshney, & Budoff, 2016).
A 2016 article published in the Journal of Nutrition, concluded that garlic supplementation was able to reduce cholesterol by 7.4–29.8 mg/dL (Varshney, & Budoff, 2016). The studies show benefit from both raw garlic and powdered garlic.
The compound in garlic which is active in reducing cholesterol is S-allyl cysteine. This is good news because this compound is not affected by heat (Sohn. Kim, You, Kim, Lee, & Kim, 2012). In addition both high pressure and high temperature processed garlic was also beneficial in lowering cholesterol. Therefore, go ahead and add it to your cooked dishes or your insta-pot and reap the benefits.
But what about bad breath?
You have meetings to go to and you can’t be a fire breathing dragon!
Aged Garlic – No more bad breath
Aged garlic also contains the active compound S-allyl cysteine. This is great because aged garlic can be ground up and taken in capsule form, which will leave your breath smelling sweet and attractive.
The capsules also have the benefit of being able to standardize the dosing. A double blind study with aged garlic gave 1.2 g of an aged garlic extract daily containing 1.2 mg S-allylcysteine and patients showed reduced HDL with no side effects (Ried, Travica, & Sali, 2016). Aged garlic extract can also be safely used by people on blood thinners (Ried, Travica, & Sali, 2016).
Curcumin is a polyphenol from the turmeric rhizome and is commonly used for its anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin is found in the spice turmeric. You may be familiar with this yellow spice in Indian dishes.
Curcumin is an alternative treatment, which has been shown to be effective in reducing cholesterol. In one study, patients took 500 mg tablets of curcumin four times daily for eight weeks and showed a significant reduction in LDL, while maintaining overall cholesterol (Mirzabeigi, Mohammadpour, Salarifar, Gholami, Mojtahedzadeh, & Javadi, 2015).
Research is now being done to look at increasing the bioavailability of curcumin by packaging it in an oil nanoemulsion. This type of curcumin formulation showed increased effectiveness at lowering cholesterol (Rachmawati, Soraya, Kurniati, & Rahma, 2016). Nanoemulsions of curcumin are not commercially available yet, but hold promise for increased bioavailability of the herb. As curcumin can affect the blood viscosity, it should not be used by patients on blood thinners.
Niacin is also known as Vitamin B3. It is found in yeast, meat, poultry, red fish (e.g., tuna, salmon), cereals, legumes, and seeds. Milk, green leafy vegetables, coffee, and tea also provide some niacin .
As a supplement, Niacin has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels and raise HDL cholesterol. An added benefit from Niacin is that is reduces inflammation in the body, which is thought to increase the health risk from high cholesterol. Your licensed nutritionist or healthcare provider can help you with dosing on Niacin and the best way to take it.
Diet Recommendations for Lowering Cholesterol
Mediterranean Diet – Yes! Yes! Yes!
My number one dietary recommendation for lowering cholesterol is to follow the Mediterranean diet. This diet includes whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits,
vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, dairy, extra virgin olive oil, spices, modest amounts of poultry, fish and red meat, and small amounts of red wine. The Institute for Functional Medicine has found over 50 studies showing the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet on cholesterol, blood pressure, waist circumference, and blood sugar.
Fish should be consumed regularly and red meat only in limited amounts. If possible eat wild caught, cold water fish.
What about eggs? Whole eggs can be eaten in moderate amounts. Shoot for about four times a week.
The main dietary message is eat more fresh vegetables!
Uhuh - more fresh vegetables!
Yes - more fresh vegetables!
Nuts to Lower Cholesterol
Nuts are an important part of the Mediterranean diet. Nuts have cholesterol lowering effects. Make sure you include nuts like walnuts, pecans, and almonds in your diet. Nuts can be used for snacks or on top of salads or other dishes to enhance their flavor.
Cholesterol Lowering Recipe
If you are feeling more adventurous, here is a great Mediterranean diet recipe from the Institute for Functional Medicine for you to try:
Salmon Pecan Cakes
Makes 8 servings (1 serving = 1 salmon patty)
1. cups pecans
1 can (7.5 ounces) wild salmon, drained
3 small scallions, chopped
1 small celery stalk, chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 pinch paprika
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. In a food processor, grind pecans to a fine texture.
3. Add remaining ingredients to food processor, and pulse to combine.
4. Remove mixture from food processor, and separate into eight medium
patties. Place on a lightly oiled baking tray, and bake until golden, about
Minimize Packaged Foods
When eating the Mediterranean Diet, there are little to no processed foods. This means staying away from the inner shelves at the grocery store and minimizing packaged foods.
Eliminate food in boxes and bags
How do you know if a food is processed? Well, if a food comes in a box, then it is considered a packaged and highly processed food. These foods are loaded with chemicals, sugar, and trans fats.
If you see some tantalizing boxes of cookies, just tell yourself,
“Not today, I want to feel good and I am going to lower my cholesterol.”
Instead, plan a yummy recipe using fresh veggies to treat yourself.
Plan for your cholesterol lowering diet
The Mediterranean diet is delicious! You don’t have to feel deprived because the fresh whole foods have so much more flavor and you will feel more satisfied. The packaged food doesn’t taste better, it is just quick and easy and has addictive ingredients like sugar.
Once you start eating more whole foods, you may see your cravings for packaged foods falling away. You may start to actually want a salad!
Make a big bowl of salad at the beginning of the week so you won’t have to reach for the convenience foods when you come home from work starving. Check out my blog on how to prep for your week with a make ahead salad.
Is this all sounding overwhelming?
Are you wondering how you are going to be able to do this?
Nutrition counseling can help you to make the changes and develop a plan that works with your lifestyle. Reach out for a free discovery call to see if this might be the help you need.
Olive Oil and Omega 3s
Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation in the body and have numerous studies confirming their importance for cardiovascular health. Omega-3 oils are found in fish like salmon, herring, sardines, and anchovies. Non-fish sources of omega 3s are chia seeds and walnuts.
There are different forms of Omega-3 fatty acids. You may have heard the terms DHA and EPA. The levels of these Omega-3 fatty acids in your blood can be measured. This testing gives you an omega-3 index and can be used to decide which foods need to be added to your diet or whether your Omega-3 supplements should be increased.
Olive oil is not high in omega 3s but it does lower LDL cholesterol and provides a great source of antioxidants. A major benefit of olive oil is that it raises HDL.
Use olive oil on your salad or put a little in the pan when sautéing vegetables. Make your own salad dressing using the olive oil and avoid premade salad dressing which often contain the trans fat oils which raise cholesterol levels.
Lifestyle for Lowering Cholesterol
You know what I am going to say about lifestyle.
Yes – move more!
For heart health include some aerobic exercise in your routine. Walk, run, bike, swim, dance…..find something you love which will keep you wanting more.
Do not feel guilty for taking time to take care of yourself. You need this and you are showing your loved ones a great example!
Has anyone heard of the Type A personality??? Well, a Type A personality is a huge risk factor for heart disease.
Ummmm – I know this one all too well. I am a Type A myself, but I have found ways to bring my stress level way down.
My favorite way to destress is with yoga. Did you know I love yoga???
You can include yoga into your day either with a class at a local studio or by trying one of the many online classes available. If you are in the Simsbury Connecticut area, check out our class schedule.
Be Ready for Your Next Check-up
Remember, cholesterol is needed for the body’s vital functions, therefore taking statin drugs which interfere with cholesterol production should be a last resort and lifestyle changes along with diet, herbs, and vitamins pursued more aggressively. Many of us are afraid to take the time to focus on our own health, but it is important if we want to be able to remain active and feel good.
You can do it!
Let me know how your next bloodwork comes out. I want to hear your success stories.
Varshney, R., & Budoff, M. J. (2016). Garlic and Heart Disease. Journal of Nutrition,146(2). doi:10.3945/jn.114.202333
Sohn, C. W., Kim, H., You, B. R., Kim, M. J., Kim, H. J., Lee, J. Y., … Kim, M. R. (2012). High Temperature- and High Pressure-Processed Garlic Improves Lipid Profiles in Rats Fed High Cholesterol Diets. Journal of Medicinal Food, 15(5), 435–440. http://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2011.1922
Ried, K., Travica, N., & Sali, A. (2016). The effect of aged garlic extract on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors in uncontrolled hypertensives: the AGE at Heart trial. Integrated Blood Pressure Control, 9, 9–21. http://doi.org/10.2147/IBPC.S93335
Rachmawati, H., Soraya, I. S., Kurniati, N. F., & Rahma, A. (2016). In Vitro Study on Antihypertensive and Antihypercholesterolemic Effects of a Curcumin Nanoemulsion. Scientia Pharmaceutica, 84(1), 131–140. http://doi.org/10.3797/scipharm.ISP.2015.05
Mirzabeigi, P., Mohammadpour, A. H., Salarifar, M., Gholami, K., Mojtahedzadeh, M., & Javadi, M. R. (2015). The Effect of Curcumin on some of Traditional and Non-traditional Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Pilot Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Trial. Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research : IJPR, 14(2), 479–486.
LDL and HDL: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol. (2015, March 16). Retrieved May 09, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/ldl_hdl.htm
High Cholesterol Facts. (2015, March 17). Retrieved May 09, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/facts.htm