Creating sustainable changes to improve your health naturally.
The use of natural medicine for treating and even reversing certain health conditions is not a common occurrence – I see it almost every day in my practice. I teach people what to eat, what supplements to take, and how to exercise to change their life around.
When a person walks through my office door, they share either one of the following:
- They are newly diagnosed with high cholesterol, and do not want to be on a statin medication for the rest of their life.
- They are already taking a cocktail of medications to lower their high cholesterol (including statins) and blood pressure, and are looking for alternative ways to manage their health and possibly ween off their medication.
Because having high cholesterol does not have any obvious symptoms, many newly diagnosed patients share that it feels like they changed from being “healthy” to “unhealthy” overnight. They become motivated to make changes, they want to be healthy again, and they want to be in control.
And that’s where I can help.
There is nothing more exciting to me than being a part of a person’s journey to a healthier life. I provide my patients the information, accountability, and support to address their health concerns through nutrition, supplementation, and other lifestyle choices. After all, it is through these types of choices that people can use to truly change – or even maybe save – their lives.
Cholesterol plays an important role in human metabolism, as it is a component of cell tissue, nerves, and is a precursor to a variety of different hormones and chemical messengers in the body. It is carried from the liver by the blood through blood vessels. Your liver is capable of making enough cholesterol for your body’s needs, but you can also get cholesterol from food sources (such as eggs, meat and dairy products). You cannot feel your cholesterol level even if it is very high. The only way to know it is high is with a blood test, such as a lipid panel. By accounting for all of the individual values in a lipid panel, as well as the relation of those values to each other, we will be able to make a sound judgement of your treatment plan.
What is the Difference Between “Good” Cholesterol and “Bad” Cholesterol?
There are two main types of cholesterol:
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), often known as “Good” cholesterol, helps clean the arteries and carries LDL away.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is often called “bad” cholesterol because it deposits cholesterol in the walls of the arteries. You want this level to be low.
Other values that are important to consider include total cholesterol, which is a rough measure of all the cholesterol in your blood; and triglycerides, a type of fat that travels in the blood that the body can either burn for energy or store.
When you take part in a comprehensive treatment program, it is important to keep track of these levels – you want to see your HDL levels increase, and your LDL and triglyceride levels to go down.
How does cholesterol affect my health?
While some cholesterol is needed for good health, too much cholesterol (especially LDL) in your blood can increase your risk for heart disease, including heart attack or stroke. Your arteries, which carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body, can have a build up of cholesterol leading to the formation of a plaque. Over time, the plaque can become hard and cause a narrowing of the space in the artery, which is also known as the process of atherosclerosis. If there is too much plaque build-up, it can eventually lead to a blockage of the artery. If an artery supplying blood to the muscles in your heart become blocked, a heart attack can occur. If an artery supplying blood to your brain becomes blocked, a stroke can occur.
This explains why too much LDL is bad for the body, and why a high level of HDL is good. For example, if your total cholesterol level is high because of a high LDL level, you may be at higher risk of heart disease or stroke. But, if your total cholesterol level is high only because of a high HDL level, then your health risks will not be as concerning.
A high total cholesterol level can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. However, decisions about when to treat high cholesterol usually depend on the level of LDL or HDL cholesterol, rather than the total cholesterol value alone.
- A total cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dL (5.17 mmol/L) is normal
- A total cholesterol level of 200 to 239 mg/dL (5.17 to 6.18 mmol/L) is borderline high
- A total cholesterol level greater than or equal to 240 mg/dL (6.21 mmol/L) is high
The total cholesterol level can be measured any time of day. It is not necessary to fast (avoid eating for 12 hours) before testing.
LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol, popularly known as “bad” cholesterol, is more accurate for predicting your risk of developing heart disease. Higher LDL cholesterol levels are associated with in increased risk of heart disease. Depending on your results, we will make certain decisions on how to improve the values. These decisions are based on several factors, including any personal or family history of heart disease, and your future risk of developing heart disease. A useful tool is the Framingham Risk Score, which predicts a person’s 10-year risk of developing heart disease.
How Integrative Medicine Helps Lower Cholesterol
A healthy dietary pattern is considered the first line of treatment to decrease LDL cholesterol levels and reduce heart disease risk in people with high cholesterol. The Mediterranean diet is known as being a “heart-healthy” diet, and is characterized by eating monounsaturated fats (olive oil) and limiting consumption of saturated fats. The diet also limits the consumption of red meat, dairy products, and poultry; with increased consumption of vegetables, fish, nuts and whole grains; and moderate consumption of red wine.
Regular aerobic exercise increases HDL levels, while decreasing total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides. Moderate intensity for at least 2.5 hours a week, or 30 minutes a day at least 5 days a week is ideal. It is important to talk to your health care provider before starting a exercise program and ask about any specific concerns that you may have about doing regular exercise.
Fibre, especially soluble fibre, plays an important role in reducing total cholesterol and LDL. When soluble fibre enters the digestive tract, it forms a thick gel that is able to bind to excess cholesterol and cholesterol like substances (i.e. bile) from the digestive tract. The soluble fibre prevents the cholesterol from being absorbed into the body, and then is excreted as part of the body’s waste. Oat beta-glucan, a form of soluble fibre derived from oatmeal, has been widely studied for its cholesterol lowering effects. Food sources of soluble fibre is found in various grains including barley, oats, as well as fruits and vegetables – rich sources include beans, peas, lentils, broccoli, sweet potato, aubergine, apple, strawberries and prunes.
Garlic is widely known for having beneficial effects on heart health due its allicin content, the main component extracted from the bulb. Various clinical studies have shown that garlic can improve the levels of total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. When used longer than 2 months, garlic has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels by as much as 8%. Aged garlic extract is especially beneficial as the aging process reduces the content of the sulfur compounds and the resulting body odor associated with garlic consumption. Garlic can increase the risk of bleeding and
supplementation should not be taken if you are also taking blood-thinning medication.
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Niacin is commonly combined with other cholesterol-lowering drugs, especially when diet and drug therapy is not effective. Niacin can decrease LDL and triglycerides, while increasing HDL. It is important to make sure that you are taking the right form of niacin – “no flush” or “flush-free” versions actually contain minimal or no levels of active niacin and therefore don’t have their beneficial effects on cholesterol and lipid levels.
Caution: niacin can cause a “flush” effect, which generally begins 15 minutes after its use. Common symptoms include a tingling sensation characterized by itchiness, redness and a heat sensation that typically goes away in about 75 minutes. With daily doses, this flushing effect becomes much more manageable and tolerable, and sometimes completely goes away after 2 to 3 days of regular use. When using niacin therapy, it is important to have your liver enzymes checked with your healthcare practitioner, as they can be elevated in some people.
What about Eggs?
Eggs are a nutritious food, as they are relatively low in saturated fat, and rich in protein, minerals and other nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin, which are good for the eyes, and choline, which is needed by nerves and the brain. They are also one of the highest dietary sources of cholesterol – about 200 mg in one large egg. The cholesterol in eggs come from the egg yolk, so eating egg whites will not affect cholesterol levels.
In healthy individuals egg consumption poses a relatively low to no risk in developing heart disease. Eeating an average of one egg per day (or seven eggs per week) does not increase the long-term risk of heart disease. However, in people with high cholesterol, what’s most important is to make sure your dietary intake of cholesterol is limited. People with high cholesterol are recommended to limit their cholesterol intake to 200 mg a day. Considering that an egg contains about the same amount, it would be important to make sure that your other sources of dietary cholesterol are limited.
- Backes Jm et al. Important considerations for treatment with dietary supplement versus prscription niacin products. Postgrad Med. 2011 Mar;123(2):70-83.
- Bonow. Braunwald’s Heart Disase – A textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011.
- Eckel RH et al. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/11/11/01.cir.000043
- Katcher HI et al. Lifestyle approaches and dietary strategies to lower LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides and raise HDL-cholesterol. Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2009;38(1):45-78.
- Kelly RB. Diet and exercise in the management of hyperlipidemia. Am Fam Physican. 2010 May 1;81(9):1097-1102.
- National Cholesterol Education Program. Executive summary fo the third report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) expert panel on detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood cholesterol in adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). JAMA. 2001;285(19):2486-2497
- Ried K et al. Effect of garlic on serum lipids: an updated meta-analysis. Nutr Rev. 2013 May; 71(5):282-99.
- Sacks, FM et al. Ingestion of egg raises plasma low density lipoproteins in free-living subjects. The Lancet, 1984 323(8378):647 – 649.
- Shin JY et al. Egg consumption in relation to risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Jul; 98(1): 146-159.
- Spence, JD et al (2012). Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque. Atherosclerosis, 224(2):469-473