Cholesterol has been indiscriminately blamed for many things. It is of course frightening for someone to think that they might suffer a heart attack because of high cholesterol. However, the accurate picture about cholesterol is vastly different to what many people know. In addition, the treatment of high cholesterol (when we have first determined which cholesterol we should be lowering), should be firstly attempted with natural therapies, before we go into using any drugs.
For those of you considering taking cholesterol lowering drugs, the information that follows is useful considering the many and sometimes serious side effects that cholesterol lowering drugs can cause. But before I delve into this life-changing information, let’s look at some basics first.
What is cholesterol? Do I need cholesterol?
Simply put, cholesterol is an essential type of fat that is carried in the blood. This soft, waxy substance is found not only in your bloodstream, but also in every cell in your body, where it helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help you to digest fat. Cholesterol also helps in the formation of your memories and is vital for neurological function.
Your liver makes about 75% of your body’s cholesterol (American Heart Association January 23, 2008)
As you can see, we certainly need cholesterol, without it we would die. So before you go trying to lower all types of cholesterol, let’s try to understand more about it.
There are different types of cholesterol in our body as follows:
High-density lipoprotein, (HDL): This is what people simply call the “good cholesterol” that helps to keep the “bad cholesterol” away from your arteries and remove any excess that can form arterial plaque, which may help to prevent heart disease.
So you wouldn’t be trying to lower THIS type of cholesterol would you?
Low-density lipoprotein, (LDL): This “bad cholesterol” circulates in your blood and, according to conventional thinking, may build up in your arteries, forming plaque that makes your arteries narrow and less flexible (a condition called atherosclerosis). If a clot forms in one of these narrowed arteries leading to your heart, it results in a heart attach. If a clot forms in the arteries leading to your brain, this results in a stroke.
Also making up your total cholesterol count are:
Triglycerides: Elevated levels of this type of fat have been linked to heart disease and diabetes. Triglyceride levels are known to rise from eating too many grains and sugars, being physically inactive, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol excessively and being overweight.
Lipoprotein (a), or Lp(a): Lp(a) is a substance that is made up of an LDL “bad cholesterol” part plus a protein (apoprotein a). Elevated Lp(a) levels are a very strong risk factor for heart disease. This has been well established, yet very few doctors check for this.
Total cholesterol is not the ONLY indicator of heart disease risk
In the past, health officials in some countries suggested that after the age of 20 people should have their cholesterol tested once every five years. Part of this test is your total cholesterol, or the sum of your blood’s cholesterol content.
However, total cholesterol level, is not the only / appropriate measure one should be looking for to determine risk of heart disease.
What we should be looking at as well is:
- Your HDL/LDL Cholesterol ratio
- Your Triglyceride/HDL ratio
Many people dread any type of cholesterol and think that it is harmful. This is simply a myth. It is the percentage of HDL to LDL (these are now proteins combined with fats) that tells us about risk (up to a point). Another interesting thing here is the word “fat”. We have been brainwashed it seems to believe that fat, ANY type of fat, is bad for us. Nothing is further from the truth! We desperately need some fats such as Omega 3, omega 6, evening primrose oil just to name a few, so be aware that for maintenance of good health, we must have a balanced diet containing all foods and nutrients.
Cholesterol also in manufactured in your body – so abstaining from anything that contains it will not necessarily lower your cholesterol levels as the body may tend to manufacture more once intake is reduced.
Cholesterol is a vital component of every cell membrane on earth. In other words, there is no life on Earth that can live without cholesterol.
In fact, INDISCRIMINATELY lowering cholesterol too much increases one’s risk of dying. Cholesterol is also a precursor to all of the steroid hormones. You cannot make estrogen, testosterone, cortisone, and a host of other vital hormones without cholesterol.”
Cholesterol and inflammation
Inflammation (the new buzz word in both natural therapies and medicine nowadays) has been linked to many different diseases. One of these diseases is heart disease (that cholesterol in isolation is often blamed for)
So what is the connection I am trying to explain here?
Consider first the role of inflammation in your body. In some respects, it’s a good thing as it’s your body’s natural response to invaders it perceives as threats. If you get a cut for instance, the process of inflammation is what allows you to heal.
Specifically during inflammation, the following process takes place:
- Your blood vessels constrict to keep you from bleeding to death
- Your blood becomes thicker so it can clot
- Your immune system sends cells and chemicals to fight viruses, bacteria and other “bad guys” that could infect the area
- Cells multiply to repair the damage
- Ultimately, the cut is healed and a protective scar may form over the area.
If your arteries are damaged, a very similar process occurs inside of your body, except that a “scar” in your artery is known as plaque. (You can see where I am getting to now)?
This plaque, along with the thickening of your blood and constricting of your blood vessels that normally occur during the inflammatory process, can indeed increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks.
Notice something interesting here? Cholesterol is not in the picture at this stage inflammation is – cholesterol comes later because, in order to replace your damaged cells, it is necessary.
Remember that no cell can form without it.
So if you have a bunch of damaged cells that need to be replaced, your liver will be notified to make more cholesterol and release it into your bloodstream.
This is a deliberate process that takes place in order for your body to produce new, healthy cells.
Even conventional medicine is more accepting of the idea that chronic inflammation can trigger heart attacks. But it seems that they stop short of seeing the big picture. In the eyes of conventional medicine, when they see increased cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream, they conclude that THAT is the cause of heart attacks, rather than the underlying damage to the arteries.
If you have increased levels of cholesterol, it is at least partly because of increased inflammation in your body. The cholesterol is there to do a job: help your body heal and repair.
If your cholesterol is too low
If the good cholesterol is too low, all kinds of bad things can happen to your body. Remember, every single one of your cells needs cholesterol to thrive — including those in your brain.
One large study conducted by Dutch researchers found that men with chronically low cholesterol levels showed a consistently higher risk of having depressive symptoms (Psychosomatic Medicine 2000;62)
This may be possibly due to the fact that cholesterol affects the metabolism of serotonin, a substance involved in the regulation of your mood. On a similar note, Canadian researchers found that those in the lowest quarter of total cholesterol concentration had more than six times the risk of committing suicide as did those in the highest quarter (Epidemiology 2001 Mar;12:168-72)
The are many studies one could sight – including studies on lowered cholesterol levels (lower than normal) related to violent behaviour and increased aggression.
Another study via analysis of over 41,000 patient records found that people who take statin drugs to lower their cholesterol as much as possible may have a higher risk of cancer, (Journal of the American College of Cardiology July 31, 2007; 50:409-418) while other studies have linked low cholesterol to Parkinson’s disease.
These are some of the reasons that I believe modern drugs do not address the issues.
Lowering cholesterol if it is high yes, lowering the harmful type cholesterol yes, but without looking at underlying causes and lowering cholesterol indiscriminately, that is, both bad and good cholesterol, is not my ideal solution.
Cholesterol lowering medications
If you have what is considered to be high cholesterol, and now that you understand better what this means, ie you want to lower your LDL cholesterol levels, taking a drug should be your absolute last resort. Certainly NOT the first choice!
Cholesterol lowering drugs work by inhibiting an enzyme in your liver that’s needed to manufacture cholesterol. The issue with tis that is of great concern to naturopaths is that when you interfere in such a way with the body’s system, you risk creating imbalances and creating other problems.
it is also important to note that cholesterol lowering drugs deplete your body of Coenzyme Q10. This nutrient is extremely valuable to the heart and circulation system and I am dealing in a separate section in my website about this important nutrient. Suffice it to say at this stage that a deficiency of this nutrient has negative effects on your health that can be serious, such as cause of fatigue, muscle weakness (the heart is a muscular organ) and heart failure.
Cholesterol lowering drugs have been linked to the following:
- An increased risk of polyneuropathy (nerve damage that causes pain in the hands and feet and trouble walking)
- Cognitive impairment, including memory loss
- A potential increased risk of cancer
- Decreased function of the immune system
- Liver problems, including a potential increase in liver enzymes (so people taking cholesterol lowering drugs must be regularly monitored for normal liver function)
Other side-effects include:
- Irritability and short tempers
- Increased aggression
- Homicidal impulses
- Rapid loss of mental clarity
- Kidney failure
- Muscle aching/weakness
- Tingling or cramping in legs
- Impaired muscle formation
- Mental confusion
- Liver damage and abnormalities
- Destruction of CoQ10 levels
It is so unfortunate that people would decide to try and lower cholesterol through these drugs with their many possible side effects as a first option – and in addition lowering all cholesterol, good and bad. Why would we choose this method as a first option, while we have so many natural methods of dealing with this, such as herbs, vitamins, exercise, proper nutrition that have no dangerous side effects and also positively affect your health in many ways, improving your general health.
How to eliminate inflammation and lower the harmful type cholesterol, thereby reducing your risk of heart disease, naturally.
I mentioned inflammation before as part of the equation that produces problems and heart disease (and increased cholesterol).
In a simplified way, chronic inflammation is actually caused by reasons that include the following:
- Eating lots of sugar and grains
- Eating foods cooked at high temperatures
- Eating fatty foods
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Emotional stress
- Eating foods cooked in oil that has been re-used (and had becomd rancid)
If you are to be successful in lowering your inflammation and cholesterol levels naturally, you must address the items above, and in addition:
- Make sure you’re getting plenty of high-quality, animal-based omega 3- fats.
- Reduce, with the plan of eliminating, sugar in your daily diet.
- Eat a good portion of your food raw.
- Get the right amount of exercise.
- Avoid smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
- Address your emotional challenges, reduce stress
- Get involved in activities such as brisk walking, swimming, running.
- Gradually work up to exercising for 30 to 45 minutes at least 3 times a week.
- Stick with your exercise program – commit only to what you can do on a regular basis. Don’t over commit for a few days or weeks and then give up altogether.
Natural Supplements to Lower Cholesterol
Polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3 fatty acids may be especially beneficial to your health. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease your risk of heart attack, protect against irregular heartbeats and lower blood pressure levels.
There are many more nutrients and herbs available, however, these need to be prescribed to your individual needs. In addition, some supplements, despite their advertising hype, are of poor quality and will not produce the desired results. Consult with your natural health practitioner about the best options.
As a final word, I couldn’t resist including some information about cholesterol levels.
INTERPRETING CHOLESTEROL LEVELS
You will see from the following tables that there are differences between the American Heart Association, the CSIRO and the Australian Government with regards to interpreting cholesterol levels. For example, “borderline” on one table may be interpreted as “normal” on another. Without going into great detail, this is part of the plan for different countries as to how they want to send the message across to their population.
According to the American Heart Association, your total blood cholesterol level will fall into one of these cholesterol levels:
|Desirable total blood cholesterol level less than 200 mg/dL (5.13 mmol/l). About 50% of all adults fall into this cholesterol level.||Borderline high risk total blood cholesterol level 200-239 mg/dL (5.13-6.13 mmol/l). About 33% of adults fall into this cholesterol level.||High risk total blood cholesterol level 240 mg/dL (6.14 mmol/l) and over. You have twice the risk of coronary heart disease. About 17% of adults are in this cholesterol level.|
According to the Australian Government, your total blood cholesterol level will fall into one of these levels:
|Total blood cholesterol level equal to or below 5.5 mmol/L (214 mg/dL) – Normal.||Total blood cholesterol level above 5.5 mmol/L (214 mg/dL) but below 6.5 mmol/L (253 mg/dL) – greatly increased risk of developing coronary heart disease.||Total blood cholesterol level above 6.5 mmol/L (253 mg/dL) – extremely high risk of developing coronary heart disease.|
According to the CSIRO – Australia’s government owned scientific and reseach organisation – the same measures for your total blood cholesterol level are to be interpreted as follows:
|Total blood cholesterol level equal to or below 5.5 mmol/L (214 mg/dL) – Normal.||Total blood cholesterol level above 5.5 mmol/L (214 mg/dL) but below 6.5 mmol/L (253 mg/dL) – slightly increased risk of developing coronary heart disease. Make some dietary changes, or more substantial changes if there is family history of coronary disease or you already have coronary disease.||Total blood cholesterol level above 6.5 mmol/L (253 mg/dL) – you need to make more serious lifestyle changes and consider drug therapy if unable to lower the cholesterol level below 6.5mmol/L.|
LDL cholesterol levels – the bad cholesterol levels
We have already mentioned that this is a better indication of cholesterol levels. Based on the American Heart Association, your LDL cholesterol level will fall into one of these levels:
|LDL cholesterol level less than 129 mg/dL ( 3.31 mmol/l) is good. Below 100 mg/dL (2.56 mmol/l) is considered even better.||LDL cholesterol level 130 to 159 mg/dL (3.33 to 4.08 mmol/l) is Borderline.||LDL cholesterol level 160 to 189 mg/dL (4.10 to 4.85 mmol/l) is High.||Higher LDL cholesterol level reading is described as Very High.|
Triglyceride is a type of fat found in the blood used to provide the body with energy – triglycerides are a fuel for the body and is mainly found in VLDL cholesterol – which is 60% triglyceride.
There are four triglyceride categories:
|Triglyceride level less than 150 mg/dL (1.69 mmol/l) is Normal.||Triglyceride level of 150-199 mg/dL (1.69-2.24 mmol/l) is Borderline-high.||Triglyceride level of 200-499 mg/dL (2.25-5.61 mmol/l) is High.||Triglyceride level of 500 mg/dL (5.62 mmol/l) or higher is Very High.|
To lower triglyceride levels, reduce saturated fats and alcohol intake. Alcohol can substantially cause your triglyceride level to increase. Lower calorie intake, avoid sugary foods. Lose weight if needed.
A high level of triglycerides can also be a sign of diabetes, hypothyroidism, liver and or kidney disease and some drugs can also elevate the level in the blood.
If you or a friend have a cholesterol problem, read this before you take action. It may save you a lot of trouble long term.
This article is for education purposes and general. Your Naturopath will be able to tailor a suitable plan for your individual needs, and most importantly will be able to prescribe herbs and supplements that will help you, without any side effects. Do not embark in any actions by yourself – this would be irresponsible and dangerous.