Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance produced by the liver, found in the bloodstream and is a vital constituent in all your body’s cells. Around 20% of the body’s total cholesterol is obtained from the diet and the body manufactures the rest. There are two types of cholesterol: HDL (high density lipoproteins) and LDL (low density lipoproteins).
The HDL’s are good for us and the LDL’s are generally bad for us. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol can join with fats and other substances to build up in the inner walls of your arteries. The arteries can become clogged and narrow, and blood flow is reduced. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) carries harmful cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver to and helps protect you from heart attack and stroke.
Then there are Triglycerides, which are another type of fat that are carried in the blood primarily by the LDL. Triglycerides store excess energy from your diet. We generally find high levels of triglycerides associated with high levels of LDL. A high triglyceride level combined with high LDL (bad) cholesterol or low HDL (good) cholesterol is linked with fatty build-ups within the artery walls, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. There is also a type of cholesterol called VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein), which is extremely bad for you.
"For years we have been told to avoid certain foods, such as, eggs because they contain cholesterol and high fat foods such as nuts, seeds and avocadoes when actually..."
A cholesterol blood reading above 6mmol/L is considered high and a healthy reading should not be greater than 5mmol/L, but even within a healthy range it is the ratio of HDL to LDL that is most important and should be considered if it is too high. LDL should be less than 3mmol and HDL should be higher than 1.2mmol; giving a maximum LDL:HDL ratio of 3:1.2.
LDL is the main problem and is called the ‘bad’ cholesterol because it can oxidise in our blood vessels causing damage and constriction. Fat soluble antioxidants, like Vitamin E, may help protect us from this oxidisation. Ideally, 20-40% of your total cholesterol should be HDL.
You need cholesterol for healthy cell membrane production and the manufacture of hormones. It is also needed to help in the synthesis of bile acids for the digestion of fats and the production of Vitamin D. A fat free or low fat diet can lead to low cholesterol levels which are linked to depression. For years we have been told to avoid certain foods, such as, eggs because they contain cholesterol and high fat foods such as nuts, seeds and avocadoes. Where actually, blood levels of LDL cholesterol are more affected by eating too much saturated and damaged fat and sugar; rather than foods such as eggs, which contain cholesterol.
"Statins are currently the choice from healthcare professionals to treat high cholesterol, but statins have been found to have significant negative side effects for some people, including memory loss, loss of libido, muscle pain and nerve damage."
If you do have a high cholesterol level or a high LDL to HDL ratio, two of the most important natural supplements you can take are Vitamin E, which helps to prevent the cholesterol oxidizing and a B vitamin complex including B3, B6, B12 and folic acid. These B vitamins help to prevent the elevation of homocysteine levels, which again tends to oxidize cholesterol and leads to plaque formation in the arteries, then LDL cholesterol can easily stick to them.
Homocysteine levels are now also being recognized as an important indicator for heart disease and stroke. Homocysteine is a toxic amino acid produced during the metabolism of proteins and high levels are associated with an 80% increased risk of heart disease and strokes, even if you have a healthy cholesterol level. It is easy to test your homocysteine levels and as mentioned above B vitamins help to lower it.
Statins are currently the choice from healthcare professionals to treat high cholesterol, but statins have been found to have significant negative side effects for some people, including memory loss, loss of libido, muscle pain and nerve damage. Although statins lower LDL and total cholesterol (by blocking the enzyme that makes cholesterol), they have a limited effect on boosting the good artery cleansing HDL and do not lower triglycerides. Statins also place a strain on all muscles, including the heart muscle, due to the lowering effect it has on the production of a vitamin-like compound called CoQ10 (Co-enzyme 10). CoQ10 is naturally produced in the liver, but the same enzyme that statins block that makes cholesterol also makes CoQ10 and as we age, especially over the age of 40, this production lessens.
Foods to eat
Increasing fibre intake is necessary to get rid of metabolised cholesterol – foods high in fibre are oat bran, rolled porridge oats, wheat germ and beans and legumes such as chickpeas, black-eyed beans, kidney beans, broad beans and lentils. Wholegrains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, spelt, barley and rye are also great for controlling cholesterol.
- Increase your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables that are abundant in antioxidants - raw, steamed, roasted or lightly stir fried. Green vegetables, carrots and apples are great choices!
- Fermented soy, such as natto, miso and tempeh, may help to raise HDL and lower LDL levels.
- Lecithin granules are a great way to help lower LDL. Sprinkle a tablespoon over cereals, into yoghurt and fruit salads.
- Increase your intake of healthier fats found in olive oil, avocadoes, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, as well as, almonds, walnuts and Brazil nuts and their unrefined oils.
- Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, trout, anchovies, sardines and herring contain an Omega 3 fatty acid known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). EPA has anti-inflammatory and blood thinning properties, so it helps to make the blood less sticky which lowers the risk of coronary heart disease. Garlic and onions do the same benefit.
- Use only small amounts of organic butter and avoid spreads containing hydrogenated or trans-fats. Alternatively, use small amounts of nut or seed butters.
- Buy eggs that are labelled as containing Omega 3 essential fats. These chickens are fed on seeds that are rich in essential fats.
- Eat in moderation live yoghurt containing lactobacillus bacteria, which lowers blood cholesterol levels by binding fat and cholesterol in the intestines.
- Kale and fennel stimulate liver function and cell generation and may help to lower blood cholesterol.
- Drink plenty of water – at least 2 litres daily.
Foods to avoid
- Barbecued or burnt foods, especially meat, hard margarines and fried foods causes cholesterol to oxidize. Cut down on your intake of animal fats and full-fat dairy produce and eat more essential fats. (see above list)
- Avoid all foods that contain hydrogenated or trans fats.
- Refined carbohydrates, white rice, white pastas, processed white breads, cakes, biscuits, candies etc can reduce the production of HDL cholesterol.
- Sugar, if not used up for energy during exercise converts to fat in the body especially on the stomach and hips. In the long run this fat accumulation raises LDL cholesterol.
- Alcohol, coffee, smoking and stress have all been shown to raise cholesterol levels.
- Eggs contain cholesterol, but this is balanced by a high choline content, which helps to break down cholesterol. Boiled and poached eggs are best. Frying eggs causes oxidative damage.
- Natural Remedies
- If you are taking statins, then it is essential that you also take a CoQ10 supplement.
- A good quality multi-vitamin and mineral including all the B vitamins to support homocysteine levels. Or take a B complex in addition to a multi.
- A high strength antioxidant formula that helps to prevent the cholesterol from oxidizing. Alpha lipoic acid is an anti-oxidant that also helps to prevent oxidation of LDL.
- An unrefined essential fats Omega 3 oil such as Udo’s Choice Ultimate oil blend or Cleanmarine krill oil containing EPA.
- The mineral chromium may help to elevate HDL levels; and calcium and magnesium are beneficial in reducing cholesterol.
- Exercise and movement is essential for a healthy lifestyle. Cardiovascular exercise like walking, swimming, cycling can raise HDL levels and lower LDL. Aim for 30 minutes of walking daily and another aerobic exercise at least 3 times per week.
- Smoking increases the oxidation of LDL cholesterol in the body.