Battling High Cholesterol Naturally

by John Diaz

There are 3 numbers we must all be concerned about as we age. The numbers I am referring to can lead to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. These numbers are blood glucose level, blood pressure, and cholesterol. The chance of occurrence goes up as we age and those numbers are growing. Take diabetes for instance, it was once referred to as adult onset diabetes because in was only seen in middle aged adults, but no longer, it is now one of the fastest growing preventable diseases among children. Fortunately, what works to get one of these numbers in order also has a positive effect on the other two.

Cholesterol is a waxy fat like substance (steroid) found all over the body. It is an essential component of cellular membranes and is also an important precursor in the production of bile, steroids and certain vitamins. Cholesterol is transported in blood plasma and here is where our problem begins. Excess amounts of the wrong type of cholesterol can lead to plaque build-up in the blood vessels leading to the complete or partial blockage of the vessel. Blocked blood vessels are the leading cause of heart attack and stroke.

illustration of plaque blocked artery leading to heart

We get cholesterol from our diet, but it is also manufactured in our bodies. Diets rich in saturated fats, sugar, stress and our genetics all contribute to our cholesterol profile. Cholesterol is commonly broken down into three types, (though this is a simplifying of the data) Low Density Lipoprotein, Very Low Density Lipoprotein and High Density Lipoprotein. The density is related to the amount of protein in the molecule. The lower the protein density, the higher the cholesterol component.

In the past it was considered sufficient to just look at the total cholesterol number, but now it is recognized that the type, size and density of the cholesterol molecule in question is of extreme  importance. 85% of plaque build-up is attributed to LDL. The larger HDL molecule is responsible for returning cholesterol back to the liver for use in tissues or for excretion. This is known as reverse cholesterol transport.

Newer recent cholesterol tests are now available such as a VAP or EEG test. These tests now categorize LDL into two primary camps, large and small particles. The large LDL particles seam to flow right through benignly while the smaller more dense ones are sticky and can more readily form a plaque. The lipoprotein concentration can also be measured and is another important risk measurement. 

So, our goal is to lower our LDL levels while raising our HDL. To lower LDL we need to:

1.  Cut saturated fat intake to less than 10% of total fat intake.
2.  Cut back on carbohydrates (particularly starches and simple sugars).
3.  Lose fat and maintain a healthy weight.
4.  Reduce stress.(take up a hobby, exercise).
5.  Exercise (exercise can lower LDL and significantly lower triglycerides by 30 - 40%).  
6.  Increase fiber intake.
7.  Stop smoking (smoking causes significant increases in LDL).
8.  Take fish oil (omega 3) also in flax seed.
9.   Eat 1 ½ oz of almonds or walnuts daily.
10. Consume more fruit and vegetables of varying colors (trace elements and antioxidants naturally reduce cholesterol and triglycerides).

To raise HDL levels:

1.   Exercise 3-5 times per week for 20-60 minutes. (high intensity longer workouts have the most pronounced effect on HDL) Think running over walking.
2.   Increase vitamin D intake
3.   Eat a small square of dark chocolate daily
4.   Have 1 -2 glasses of red wine daily, but no more (excess alcohol can have the opposite effect by raising triglycerides)
5.   Take niacin (as nicotinic acid, consult doctor first) this is one of the most effective ways of increasing HDL and its protective qualities.