Natural Health Q & A

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Natural Health Q & A

[Of cholesterol and various approaches to lowering cholesterol levels.]

Q My doctor tells me I have high cholesterol and I should be on medication to lower it. What are the risks of high cholesterol and are there alternative treatments that I can use?

A Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is manufactured by the liver and also found in animal products. High cholesterol levels are among the primary causes of heart disease and stroke because cholesterol produces fatty deposits (plaques) in arteries causing decreased blood flow to brain, kidneys, genitals, extremities and heart. High cholesterol levels are linked to gallstones, impotence, mental impairment, high blood pressure, colon polyps and cancer (especially prostate and breast).

Despite cholesterol's bad reputation, it is actually necessary for the proper functioning of many body processes. It is used to build cell membranes, sex hormones and bile acids needed in the digestive process. However, we do not need to eat cholesterol because the liver can make all the cholesterol that our bodies require.

STRATEGIES TO LOWER CHOLESTEROL

1. DIETARY/LIFESTYLE CHANGES

Decrease intake of animal products and saturated fats. Meat and dairy (animal products) are primary sources of dietary cholesterol. Vegetables, fruits and plant products are free of cholesterol. We can often decrease our overall cholesterol levels by decreasing our intake of animal products and eating a vegetable or plant-based diet. However dietary cholesterol is only part of the story. Other substances can affect cholesterol levels such as saturated fats which include all fats of animal origin as well as coconut and palm kernel oils. These fats send a message to the liver to make more cholesterol and thus cause elevated cholesterol levels. So, even if the food label says "No Cholesterol," it is important to make sure its contents are not high in saturated fat or it will still have a cholesterol raising effect in the body. The best fats to eat are the monounsaturated fats followed by the polyunsaturated fats such as olive or canola oil. Check food labels and eliminate all hydrogenated fats and hardened fats and oils such as margarine, lard, butter, and fried foods.

Include these foods which aid in lowering cholesterol: apples, bananas, carrots, cold-water fish, dried beans, garlic, grapefruit, and olive oil. Garlic and onions eaten raw or lightly cooked work well and experts recommend three onions or five cloves of garlic a week. Water soluble dietary fiber is also very important in reducing serum cholesterol. It is found in barley, beans, brown rice, fruits, guar gum, and oats. A bowl of oatmeal provides roughly 3 grams of fiber which is the recommended minimum daily fiber dose. If oatmeal is not your bag, there are many other fiber products on the market that contain psyllium or pectin which, if consumed daily, can lower cholesterol by 8-23%. An apple a day can keep the doctor away!

Avoid sugar, alcohol and caffeine. All three in moderate mounts have been shown to increase the body's production of cholesterol.

Exercise has been shown to lower cholesterol levels. The benefits include lowering of blood pressure, enhancing the body's sensitivity to insulin (i.e. helping to regulate blood sugar), and prevent heart attacks. In fact studies show that regular exercise can reduce your risk of death from all causes of disease.

Decrease stress. Research has shown that cholesterol levels increase after only one hour of either emotional or physical stress. And if you stay stressed for a few hours, your cholesterol can remain high for more than a week. Whether you meditate, jog, do yoga or paint to relieve stress, know that you are literally changing your body's chemistry in a positive way.

2. OTHER NATURAL SUPPLEMENTS

(Although this is an abbreviated list, these are a few helpful ideas.)

If unable to consume whole garlic in its natural form garlic capsules are available. Look for the allicin content to determine the dose and consume between 4000 and 6000 mcg per day.

Inositol hexaniacinate (a special form of niacin, a B vitamin) is one of the best treatments of elevated cholesterol. This form does not have the liver toxicity seen with high dose niacin. It should be reserved for cholesterol levels greater than 280 and started at 500 mg three times per day with meals. Its dose is adjusted based on follow-up cholesterol levels and should be taken with the supervision of your physician.

Other herbs such as cayenne, rosemary, turmeric, fenugreek and ginger have all been shown to lower cholesterol. Enjoy their benefits by using them generously in your food (or they can be found in capsule form).

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic practitioners use herbal remedies amongst other treatments that can help balance the liver function and control cholesterol elevations: In China, Chinese skullcap, ginseng and two mushrooms -- shiitake and reishi -- have been used with great success. The ayurvedic herb guggul from the myrrh tree of India has been studied in this country and has been found to lower cholesterol levels. There are homeopathic remedies available as well. Consultations with these types of practitioners can be very beneficial.

3. PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS

As a very last resort there are many cholesterol lowering agents available to physicians today which can produce a lowering of excess cholesterol in the body. However, they are not without a price both economically and physically. They are often a quick fix approach to correct the elevated lab result without addressing the underlying imbalances that exist in our diets and bodies as a result. While they may have a role in certain situations, be wary if this is the first line of treatment recommended without exploring the above-mentioned treatment suggestions.

As always, it ts highly recommended that you and your physician work together as a team to create a plan that is right for you and your unique situation.

Altnewtimes Inc.

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By Karen L. Mutter

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