Natural Strategies For Lowering Cholesterol

Last month saw the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer withdraw its cholesterol-lowering drug Lipobay (cerivastatin) from the World market. The drug has been linked with a number of deaths caused by a condition characterised by muscle break-down known as ‘rhabdomyolysis’. In addition, there have been more than a thousand reports of muscle weakness associated with the drug’s use. Doctors will now be looking to swap their patients from Lipobay to other drugs which have similar action in the body such as Lipitor (atorvastatin) or Zocor (simvastatin). However, there is some evidence that other drugs which work in the same way as Lipobay – known as ‘statins’ ” may also cause rhabdomyolysis in a small but significant number of people. As a result, a consumer watchdog organisation in the United States is calling for all statin drugs to carry labels warning clearly of this potential side-effect. In the light of these revelations about the most commonly-used cholesterol lowering medications, some individuals may be tempted to take an alternative approach to lowering their cholesterol level. Here, we take a look at the some of the most effective strategies natural medicine has to offer.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is transported around the body in the blood stream. Cholesterol can build up on the inside of our arteries and increase our risk of ‘cardiovascular’ diseases such as heart disease and stroke. The cholesterol in the body comes in two main forms; low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL). Raised levels of LDL are associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis and for this reason LDL has been dubbed ‘bad’ cholesterol. HDL, on the other hand, is associated with a reduced risk of atherosclerosis and is therefore often referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol.

Only about a quarter of the cholesterol in the blood stream comes from the diet. The rest is made naturally in the liver. Statin drugs such as Lipobay work by slowing down the rate at which the liver manufactures cholesterol. It has been known for a long time that there is a risk of these drugs causing inflammation in the liver (hepatitis) which is why liver function tests are often recommended for individuals taking statin drugs. The problems of muscle weakness and rhabdomyolysis associated with these drugs has only recently begun to be recognised by many doctors. This revelation may cause doctors to be more reticent about starting a patient on this therapy.

High cholesterol levels often respond to dietary approach. Some foods are known to have a cholesterol-lowering effect such as soya milk and tofu, oat bran, ‘live’ yoghurt, walnuts, garlic and onions. Plenty of these foods should be included in the diet. As well as reducing the level of LDL in the body, it can help to increase the level of HDL. Both oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, tuna) and raw garlic appear to do this, which makes them good choices for anyone with a high cholesterol level. Exercise has been shown to raise HDL levels. This is likely to be one of the reasons why regular exercise reduces the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the role of compounds called ‘sterols’ and ‘stanols’ in reducing cholesterol levels. Sterols and stanols are found naturally in plants, and have a chemical structure very similar to that of cholesterol. Because of this, sterols and stanols can block the absorption of cholesterol from the gut, thereby reducing cholesterol levels in the blood stream. Several studies have proved a cholesterol lowering effect. At a total dose of 2 g per day, sterols and stanols appear to reduce the risk of heart disease by about 25 p.c.

Some food manufacturers have come up with idea of adding sterols and/or stanols to products such as margarine or cream cheese. However, my feeling is that this is essentially giving with one hand and taking with the other: While the sterols and stanols may help to reduce cholesterol levels, the fat that these products contain may increase risk of heart disease and stroke. Sterols and stanols are available, however, in supplement form under the name ‘Lestrin’. This product can be found in health food stores.

Two other natural substances which may help to reduce cholesterol levels are niacin (a form of vitamin B3) and chromium. Large doses of niacin (3 g/day) have been shown to substantially reduce total cholesterol levels and increase HDL levels. As a result, niacin is gaining increasing popularity as a cholesterol treatment even with conventional doctors. However, such large doses of niacin can be toxic to body, particularly the liver, and may induce problems such as flushing, nausea and queasiness. Because of this, large doses of niacin should really only be taken under the supervision of a doctor.

Chromium has been shown in studies to reduce cholesterol levels and increase HDL levels. It is believed that niacin and chromium work particularly well in combination. One report suggests that just 100 mg of niacin combined with 200 mcg of chromium per day may be effective in reducing cholesterol levels for some people. Magnesium is another useful nutrient for treating raised cholesterol. In one study, magnesium at a dose of 430 mg per day was shown to reduce cholesterol levels and increase HDL levels.

The Indian herb guggul (Commiphora mukul) contains compounds called guggulsterones which have the ability to reduce LDL levels. Studies in humans have consistently confirmed that guggul has the ability to reduce cholesterol levels. The normal recommended dose is 25 mg of guggulsterones, three times a day.

Vitamin E may also be of benefit to individuals suffering from high cholesterol. Studies suggest that it when cholesterol, becomes damaged through a process known as ‘oxidation’ that it then has the propensity to settle on the inside of the body’s arteries. Therefore, it is thought that even if the cholesterol level remains unchanged, protecting it from oxidation can help to reduce heart disease risk. Because vitamin E has a cholesterol-protecting effect, it may help to reduce the damaging effects of cholesterol in the body. Studies show that even relatively modest supplementation with vitamin E can reduce heart disease risk by about 40 p.c. The normal recommended dose is 400 ” 800 IU per day.

4 Responses to Natural Strategies For Lowering Cholesterol

  1. Cathy 9 August 2007 at 8:01 pm #

    I started taking Cinnamon capsules about 4 months ago because of my high cholesterol. The doctor wanted to put me on some type of medicine and I’m the type of person that would rather treat something with a natural remedy rather than treat something with a prescription drug. Before I started taking Cinnamon my cholesterol level was 245 and now it is at borderline level of 210. The longer I take the cinnamon the better my Cholesterol gets. You can find Cinnamon almost everywhere but I order mine through a company called HealthQuest Technologies. They have a program where I can get the cinnamon sent to my house every two months for 6 months at a time and they automatically charge my credit card every two months so I don’t have to worry about calling in and ordering it. Here is the number to call if you want to order some. 1-866-746-6247.

  2. Chris 9 February 2009 at 9:49 pm #

    Cathy, I too am sceptical about taking drugs prescribed by my doctor although there are conditions for which I would accept a prescription. My doctor prescribed simvastatin and I elected not to take it.
    Natural remedies appear on the face of it to make more sense – especially if there is evidence of longstanding practice of use by cultures and civilisations without known side effects. Nonetheless, such optimism about the efficacy and possible consequences of the use of natural remedies should be tempered with some care.
    To begin with a great many compounds as occur in nature are downright injurious to health. Even familiar foods contain compounds in trace quantities whose effects are regarded as being very powerful – think phytonutrients and anti-oxidents. Between these two facets lie many of the herbs, spices and remedies about which not a great deal is known, at least not in full scientific terms. Recognition of active constituents and the mechanisms by which they act is an emerging but young science. Some of the identified constituents are acknowledged as potent compounds in their own right and it follows that there may be many more potent compounds still yet unidentified. How would we know what may constitute an effective dose or what what may constitute a harmful dose?
    If it is any concillation, I dust my home made oat museli breakfast cereal with ground cinnamon most days. Somewhere on the web I saw reference to cinnamon possibly helping to regulate blood glucose. But that exemplifies the trouble with search engines and the web. To some extent they are self-determining. Enter a Google search for ‘Cinnamon’ and ‘Glucose’ and you will return pages that link the two. The search says nothing for the truth or validity of the pages returned.

  3. Chris 24 February 2009 at 5:37 pm #

    Dr Vern S Cherewatenko, was/is? a big advocate of Chromium as part of a therapy for type 2 diabetes.
    The Diabetes Cure, Cherewatenko, V.S. & Perry, P; 1999 pub. Thorsons.
    He’s a big advocate of an exercise regime too.

  4. michael 23 June 2009 at 11:52 am #

    My own cholesterol level was a little high so I took green tea capsules, omega 3, vitamin c 500 mg, and vitamin b3 every day for six months. My level then reduced to normal.

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