Generally speaking, Spring is thought of as the time for rejuvenation. However, for the health conscious, January is typically the month when a global wellness “stock-taking” is done and changes are made for the coming year. Seems we’ve just finished with one big “C” (Christmas) and now, health-wise, we’re looking at another big “C”, cholesterol.
When we think about cholesterol, we think about things such as cholesterol levels, foods that lower cholesterol, how to construct a cholesterol-lowering diet that includes exercise, and the definition of the good, the bad, and the ugly types of cholesterol.
Why is knowing your current cholesterol level important? Knowing and understanding what level you’re at, and what level is safe for you, will allow you to make better nutritional choices and incorporate the right type and amount of exercise into your day, which will keep you healthy. The best source to confer with regarding your personal cholesterol levels is your health care professional. He/she will be able to advise you, based on your history and current state of health, where your levels should be.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what cholesterol is and why the body needs it, how cholesterol levels are determined, which foods are considered “cholesterol-lowering”, what a cholesterol-lowering lifestyle plan might look like, and a few supplement suggestions for lowering your cholesterol.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a lipid (fat), a waxy compound that belongs to a class of molecules that we’ve all heard of called steroids. A handful of cholesterol might feel like a smooth glob of melted candle wax.
The production of cholesterol involves a series of complicated biochemical reactions that take place primarily in your liver. Our bodies naturally produce approximately 1,000mg of cholesterol per day. The body produces this amount before taking into consideration cholesterol levels in the foods we’ve just eaten. Cholesterol is also produced by the cells lining the small intestine and by individual cells throughout the body.
Why Does Your Body Need Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a handy little substance found in all the cells in your body. It is necessary for the formation and maintenance of your cell membranes. Cholesterol helps a cell’s membranes guard against changes in temperature and protects and insulates nerve fibres. The body also uses cholesterol when it produces hormones such as progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol. Cholesterol is used by the body in the formation of bile salts which, ultimately, help you digest your food. And, most importantly for all us Canucks, cholesterol helps our bodies convert the vitamin D we get from the sunshine into a useable form.
How Are Cholesterol Levels Determined?
Your health care professional has your complete health profile and will be able to tell you when you should begin having your cholesterol checked. For a healthy man, typically checking begins around age 35 and, for a healthy woman, checking begins around age 45. However, if heart disease risk factors show up in your health profile, or there is a family history of cardiac problems, your health care professional will probably suggest checking cholesterol levels earlier and more often than the recognized time frame of every 2 – 5 years.
Other factors involved in determining if you should have your cholesterol checked earlier or more often include if:
- You’re a woman and your waist size is more than 35 inches
- You’re a man and your waist size is more than 40 inches
- You’re a woman over 50 and post-menopausal
- You have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or have had a stroke
- You smoke or have recently quit smoking1
Typically, your cholesterol is checked with a simple blood test known as a lipid panel.
HDL vs LDL
Cholesterol is carried in the blood by molecules called lipoproteins. A lipoprotein is any complex or compound containing both lipid and protein. The three main types are LDL (low density lipoprotein), HDL (high density lipoprotein), and triglycerides, the chemical forms in which most fat exists in the body as well as in food.
LDL (“Lousy” cholesterol) is usually referred to as “bad” cholesterol. This is the culprit that can cause a harmful buildup of cholesterol if an overabundance is carried to the cells in your body, becomes unusable, and builds up on your artery walls.
HDL (“Helpful” lipoprotein) is referred to as the “good” cholesterol and can prevent arterial disease. HDL does the opposite of LDL; it actually takes the cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver. In the liver, it is either broken down or expelled from the body as waste. 2
Many studies have found that increasing the dietary intake of oat products, as well as legumes and other high-fibre foods, can play a significant role in decreasing “bad” cholesterol (LDL) levels. Soluble fibre seems to help reduce LDL levels by grabbing onto the cholesterol and eliminating it from the body through the digestive system. Some excellent fibre-rich choices besides oatmeal and oat bran include beans, barley, apples and prunes.
The great news is that it doesn’t take 10 servings of a fibre-rich food to do your heart good. One USDA study concluded that eating as little as one-half cup of cooked dry beans per day helped lower total cholesterol levels of the study participants.
Recent research indicates that sterols and stanols, natural substances found in many plants, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, can significantly reduce LDL levels by blocking cholesterol absorption and preventing it from getting into the bloodstream.
One study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that people who included twice-daily servings of sterol-fortified orange juice in their diet experienced, on average, a 9% decrease in LDL levels and an average 12% reduction in C-reactive protein levels, another key indicator of heart disease risk.
Sterols and stanols are naturally found in small amounts in many plants. In addition, a slew of new products fortified with sterols or stanols, everything from milk to snack bars, can now be found on grocery shelves.
For people who have a history of heart disease or elevated LDL levels, the American Heart Association recommends talking with a doctor before taking sterol or stanol supplements.
Fatty fish, such as wild salmon, sardines and anchovies are all rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Considerable research links these “healthy fats” to various health benefits. They not only reduce LDL levels, but they help lower high blood pressure and cut cardiovascular risk. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may also raise levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), which helps ferry bad cholesterol to the liver where it can be eliminated from the body.
Research has also shown that it is important to cut down on saturated fat and trans fats. Trans fats are listed in the “nutrition facts” on food labels; they can also be found in the product’s list of ingredients, marked as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” fats or oils.
Try to replace these unhealthy fats with healthier monounsaturated fats as found in extra virgin olive oil, as well as canola oil, avocados, peanuts and tree nuts. Doing so can help lower your LDL and raise your HDL levels.
But even good fats should be eaten in moderation because all types of fat contain more than twice the calories of proteins or carbohydrates. The American Heart Association recommends choosing fats and oils that contain less than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. 3
Overview of a Cholesterol-Lowering Lifestyle Plan
The basics certainly apply here; healthy foods and moderate exercise. As always, before undertaking any type of lifestyle change, you should check with your health care professional for their input on how best to implement any changes.
- Eating an abundance of fresh, raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds will help you get the fibre you need to move any excess cholesterol through your system.
- When eating more fibre, increase your water intake as well. You should try to consume at least 1 liter of extra water (not including tea, coffee, juices, etc.) per day.
- To get the fibre moving through your system, gentle exercise such as walking, light housework, dancing, and swimming are all great options.
- Get the rest you need so your body can properly perform its nocturnal detoxification cycle.
Supplements To Assist With High Cholesterol
With your doctor’s OK, consider these cholesterol-lowering products:
Barley – may reduce total cholesterol and LDL; suggested dosage is 3 grams barley oil extract or 30 grams barley bran flour a day. No side effects known.
Fish Oil – may reduce triglycerides; suggested dosage is 2 to 4 grams a day; may experience fishy aftertaste or might interact with some blood thinners.
Ground flaxseed – may reduce triglycerides; suggested dosage is 40 to 50 grams per day stirred into cereal or yogurt or mixed into batter of baked goods; may cause gas (begin with smaller amounts) or interact with blood thinners.
Garlic extract – may reduce total cholesterol, LDL and/or triglycerides; suggested dosage is 600 to 1,200 milligrams a day, divided into 3 doses; may cause bad breath or gas; may interact with blood thinners.
Oat Bran – may reduce total cholesterol and LDL; suggested dosage of up to 150 grams of whole-oat products per day; may cause gas or bloating (begin with smaller amounts).
Nutter’s Can Suggest…
KYOLIC® Aged Garlic Extract™ begins with 100% organically grown garlic bulbs. They are then aged to perfection in a unique extraction process to eliminate odor and create beneficial compounds. Aged Garlic supports healthy cholesterol levels already in a normal range, circulation, immune function, liver function, and nerves and assists in fighting stress and fatigue. Aged Garlic Extract and its constituents have also been shown to enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria.
3. The Top 4 Superfoods That Can Lower Your Cholesterol
Katherine Lee, October 2008
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.