I have a family history of heart disease and have just found out that my total cholesterol is high. Is there anything natural I can take to bring it down?
February is ‘Heart Month’ and so a fitting time to talk about cholesterol and to make sure you have your finger on the pulse! One of the risks of having high cholesterol is that it will deposit on the walls of your arteries, ‘clogging’ them and leading to blockages (atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries”).
Having said that, when you assess your cholesterol levels and consider whether there is risk, you should know that the fasting cholesterol screening test has 4 main components –a total cholesterol number, an HDL, LDL and a ratio of LDL to total cholesterol. Seeing high total cholesterol is not enough to ring the alarm bells, you have to look closer at the information. Essentially, you want to maximize HDL (good cholesterol… H for helpful), minimize LDL (bad cholesterol … L for low) and maintain a good ‘ratio.’ The total cholesterol is a total of the HDL, LDL and another fat molecule called VLDL. Therefore, the ratio tells you what portion of the total cholesterol is of a ‘bad’ or unfavorable type.
While many people focus on cholesterol levels to monitor their risk of developing heart disease, it is important to take a much broader perspective. One of the most important factors in mitigating risk of developing heart disease is limiting inflammation. Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease. Inflammation injures the blood vessel and begins the cascade that leads to blockage. Imagine a vehicle crash that blocks the flow of highway traffic. In the blood vessel, inflammation injures the arterial wall, cells of the immune system come to begin repair and then other molecules (such as cholesterol) begin to stick to the injury site and accumulate, blocking flow. A stroke can occur when there is a blockage that impedes flow to the brain while a heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart occurs.
It is important to point out that consuming dietary cholesterol makes little impact on blood cholesterol. Rather, ‘high cholesterol’ (let’s call it high LDL or a poor ratio) is typically a function of eating a disproportionate amount of refined carbohydrates (including sugar), consuming trans fats (such as found in shortening, some margarines and packaged foods), not enough soluble fibre intake, and/or suboptimal liver function; the liver prepares cholesterol for removal via bile.
If you find that your ratios are poor, here are:
5 Suggestions to Lower Cholesterol
- Consider supplements that improve liver function such as dandelion, turmeric, artichoke, and milk thistle.
- Increase soluble fibre intake by adding oat bran, psyllium husk and/or ground flaxseed to your daily routine. Fibre binds cholesterol aiding its elimination.
- Consider taking
Coenzyme Q10– a water and fat-soluble anti-oxidant that helps protect heart health including by quelling inflammation.
- Supplement with Omega 3 oils. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) found in fish oils and some sea vegetables help to elevate HDL, reduce LDL, and decrease inflammation. Fish oils can thin the blood so seek medical advice if you are using blood thinners or are approaching surgery.
- Limit sugar and refined carbohydrates. Focus on colourful vegetables and fruits so that you bolster nutrient density and support good health.
I hope this information helps you get a read on some of the variables that impact heart health.
“Health from the inside out.”
Dr. Kimberly McQueen BSc, ND is a Naturopathic Physician in Victoria, BC. In addition to her clinic work she has been a consultant to the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence, Camosun College, Rugby Canada and Rowing Canada. P:778.433.4935 and www.kimmcqueen.com. Kim McQueen is one of the Co-founders of the nourishing Supershake, Rumble. See www.drinkrumble.com