Do you want to lower your cholesterol naturally? You've come to the right place.
In this article, we intend to answer some of the most fundamental questions about cholesterol – what is it? is it all bad? what does the scientific research say? – while suggesting ways to naturally manage your cholesterol levels.
According to the World Health Organization, elevated cholesterol increases the risks of heart disease and stroke, and a third of ischaemic heart disease is attributable to high cholesterol.
Learning better management processes is a great way to fortify your heart and reduce your risk of common circulatory diseases such as heart attack, stroke and vascular dementia.
Let's get right to it.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a lipid (a type of fat). It isn’t all bad, and our bodies can’t function without it.
It’s a source of fuel that helps to form a healthy cell structure and aid cell signalling. It helps to make steroid hormones, including vitamin D, and plays a role in our innate immunity.
Cholesterol is a precursor of bile acids which are crucial for digestion, the absorption of lipids in the small intestine and regulation of cholesterol.
Bile acids are also significantly involved in vital metabolic processes.
We need enough cholesterol in our skin to synthesise vitamin D from sunlight. Although there are conflicting studies in this area, a recent, longitudinal study over five years, involving 13, 039 adults, shows a correlation between higher total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels and increased vitamin D status.
Cholesterol can be obtained through diet or synthesised internally by your body. There are two main types of cholesterol LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein).
LDL transports cholesterol to the cells. It’s the precursor of steroid hormones including testosterone, oestrogen and cortisol, which are produced in the mitochondria of cells.
If there’s too much cholesterol for your cells to use, LDL builds up in your arteries. This is why it’s labelled ‘bad’ cholesterol.
HDL moves cholesterol from the cells and back to the liver where it’s broken down or exits your body as waste. This is why it’s known as ‘good’ cholesterol.
However, HDL has the potential to become dysfunctional and can contribute to dyslipidemia.
Problems occur when high blood cholesterol becomes oxidised, causing inflammation and contributing to conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Lifestyle risk factors for high cholesterol include a poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, excessive alcohol intake and obesity.
You may also be more vulnerable if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or suffer from kidney disease, liver disease or hypothyroidism.
Familial hypercholesterolemia is a genetic disorder present from birth which causes extremely high cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke in children as well as adults.
Does low LDL mean lower heart disease risk?
Although standard opinions differ, a recent systemic review published in BMJ Open found no clear link between higher levels of circulating LDL and mortality in most people over 60 years of age.
Researchers found that the elderly with high LDL cholesterol lived as long or longer than those with low LDL.
The scientists, doctors and cardiologists carrying out the review advised a revision of the current guidelines recommending the reduction of LDL-C via pharmaceuticals, including statins.
7 supplements to help lower and manage cholesterol
1) Green Vibrance Powder
This award-winning supplement is a great all-rounder when it comes to preserving your overall health and protecting you from developing high cholesterol.
With over 1,000mg of herbal antioxidants in every serving, Green Vibrance Powder reduces free radical damage and calms inflammation, a contributing factor to heart disease.
The whole-food supplement also contains several nutrients to support liver function, which is essential for preventing high cholesterol, since a healthy liver is vital for maintaining balanced blood cholesterol.
Amongst its rich list of quality ingredients, Green Vibrance Powder contains a nutrient called policosanol, which is proven to lower elevated cholesterol.
A natural alkaloid, yellow in colour, and used for thousands of years in both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine. Berberine is found in several healing plants such as Oregan Grape, Tree Turmeric, Goldenseal, Barberry, Cork-Tree, and Chinese Goldthread.
Berberine works at a molecular level inside the cells. It has a variety of actions, but its main impact seems to be on triggering AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), a metabolic regulator which plays an active role in metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Currently, trials are looking into a new pharmaceutical drug which inhibits the PCSK9 gene from expressing a protein called PCSK. This protein lowers the liver’s ability to sweep away excess LDL from the blood and balance cholesterol levels.
Very early research suggests that berberine can also do this, effectively lowering LDL cholesterol.
A 2013 meta-analysis of 11 randomised controlled trials involving 874 people concluded that berberine could significantly lower total cholesterol and LDL while remarkably increasing HDL. No adverse side effects were reported.
A further study gave 32 dyslipidemic patients 500mg per day of berberine over three months. It decreased total cholesterol by 29%, LDL by 25%, and triglycerides by 35%.
A trial with 80 statin-intolerant participants with high cholesterol gave half the group a nutraceutical pill containing 500mg berberine alongside policosanol, red yeast rice, folic acid, coenzyme Q10 and astaxanthin.
Results were promising, showing a significant reduction in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and insulin resistance. The natural treatment was well tolerated without the raft of statin side effects.
As previously mentioned, diabetes increases your risk of dyslipidemia and atherosclerosis. Several studies show the potential for berberine to treat type 2 diabetes, and it can be as effective as pharmaceutical drugs like metformin.
Planet Source Berberine is a superior supplement which provides a therapeutic 1200mg dose made from the Berberis aristata root, also known as Indian barberry. It is non-GMO, vegan-friendly and free from corn, sugar, salt, wheat, soy, gluten and artificial ingredients.
Taking a daily probiotic supplement could be beneficial, with multiple studies supporting the use of various Lactobacillus strains to reduce total cholesterol.
One probiotic strain known as Lactobacillus reuteri is also shown to lower harmful LDL cholesterol, while another – Lactobacillus plantarum – has proved effective at lowering total and LDL cholesterol.
Prebiotic supplements also encourage healthy gut bacteria to thrive.
Progurt probiotics are a cutting-edge range designed to restore and maintain a healthy and balanced gut environment. These Human Probiotic Isolates are identical to those found in a healthy human gut from birth, and as such, are better able to colonise than soil- and bovine-based probiotics.
Progurt is clinically tested and boasts an exceptionally high strength of one-trillion colony-forming units to populate your gut with healthy bacteria.
4) Garlic capsules
Taking garlic capsules could help to reduce both total and LDL cholesterol.
Garlic also has remarkable antioxidant power, which can help to calm overall inflammation and may protect cholesterol from oxidation.
It helps to protect the heart and also has the potential to reduce blood pressure. For the best results, take 600-900 mg per day.
5) Green tea extract
This also has powerful antioxidant properties with the potential to reduce blood pressure and inflammation. Green tea has been found to lower LDL cholesterol while potentially boosting HDL cholesterol. In one small study, green tea significantly reduced harmful LDL cholesterol in male smokers.
6) Red rice yeast
This has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries and contains naturally occurring metabolites including monacolin K, which can contribute to the maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels. It would also be extra beneficial to take it with added COQ10.
However, always ensure you purchase supplements from a reputable brand that uses a highly purified and certified source, free from a toxic substance called citrinin, a potential by-product of the fermentation process.
This chemical compound can damage the kidneys and contribute to other forms of chronic illness, so you need to be careful.
A 2002 trial gave 0.1g per day of liquorice root extract to hypercholesterolemic patients for one month, followed by an additional one month of placebo. Significant improvements in plasma oxidation and the lowering of LDL cholesterol were noted after taking the liquorice.
The positive changes regressed once the patients received the placebo. A 10% reduction in blood pressure was observed in the participants while taking the liquorice, and it was sustained while taking the placebo.
Another study published in 2016 gave two groups of patients with high cholesterol 0.2g per day of an extract of liquorice root versus placebo for one year. At the end of the study, those taking the liquorice had reduced total and LDL cholesterol levels, blood pressure and carotid artery thickness, potentially lowering the risk of heart disease.
8 lifestyle and diet suggestions
1) A healthy diet
Eating a healthy whole-food diet rich in nutrient-dense foods and colourful vegetables and fruits will help to keep your cholesterol levels balanced. Beans and legumes are especially useful for reducing cholesterol.
Steer clear of processed and fast foods and pre-packaged meals. Try to cook everything from scratch so that you know exactly what you are eating.
2) Eat healthy fats including nuts and seeds
Full of fibre and nutrients, nut and seeds may help to reduce total and LDL cholesterol.
3) Olive oil
Drizzle raw, cold-pressed olive oil onto cooked vegetables and salads daily. It includes heart-healthy oleic acid and various plant compounds which can help to reduce LDL oxidation and balance total cholesterol.
4) Include polyphenol-rich foods daily
Polyphenols are associated with lowered cholesterol, cardiovascular disease and premature ageing risk. Sources include spinach, onions, olives, artichokes, asparagus, carrots, broccoli, potatoes, berries of all kinds, grapes, peaches, apples, grapefruit, and oranges.
Also eat nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains like rye and oats, sesame seed oil, olive oil, cocoa powder and dark chocolate. Cook with plenty of herbs and spices including capers, cloves, star anise, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, thyme, basil, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and celery seeds.
5) Eat daily helpings of pre and probiotic foods
This will encourage healthy gut bacteria to help manage your cholesterol. Prebiotic foods include garlic, leeks, onions, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, underripe bananas, oats, apples, flaxseeds, almonds and legumes.
Probiotic sources include raw fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, gherkins and other pickles, kefir, tempeh, natto and live natural yogurt.
6) Regular exercise
Exercising for at least 30 minutes, five days a week, as part of a healthy lifestyle may help to moderate your cholesterol.
7) Keep your stress levels in check
Some evidence points towards a link between stress and increased cholesterol. It could be down to developing unhealthy dietary habits when you’re feeling anxious or low, which can increase your high cholesterol risk.
You will also be releasing stress hormones (cortisol and adrenalin) which could promote higher total and LDL cholesterol. Keep an eye on any stress and be aware of how it affects you.
Take steps to calm yourself through regular deep breathing, meditation, yoga, exercise, walking in nature, finding the time to laugh and have fun, and doing things you enjoy.
8) Stop smoking
This causes chemical changes in your body, leading to increased triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels.
A healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a proper diet and stress management is essential for reducing or maintaining balanced cholesterol levels.
Beyond this, several supplements may be a useful, natural alternative to standard pharmaceuticals such as statins, without their slew of horrible side-effects.
**If you have any chronic health conditions that require medication, please speak to your doctor before changing your diet or taking supplements.
Written by Rebecca Rychlik, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
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Garlic has remarkable antioxidant power, which can help to calm overall inflammation and may protect cholesterol from oxidation.