Monty — a memorable name for a memorable
person. Monty was a big guy, and when it came to cholesterol, he
had big numbers. His total cholesterol was more than 325, and the
other numbers — LDL cholesterol (so-called “bad” cholesterol) and
triglycerides followed suit.
These days, thanks to the media, most people understand the
significance of these numbers, at least somewhat. And although
medical science can’t tell you exactly what the numbers mean, it
has become clear that high values for total cholesterol, LDL
cholesterol and triglycerides are not good for your health. Along
with blood pressure, these numbers are early indicators of a
patient’s risk of developing chronic heart disease, and of
experiencing, or even dying from, a heart attack or stroke.
What the media often does not mention is that the high
cholesterol and hypertension that often lead to coronary artery
disease (CAD) also can play a major role in producing many symptoms
associated with aging (at least in many developed countries) —
especially sexual dysfunction in men and women, poor memory (and
eventually Alzheimer’s), inability to walk very far without pain,
and nerve pain (neuropathy).
Cleaning Up Monty’s Act
Monty and I talked for nearly an hour at our first meeting. He
had a lot of questions — he had just been told by his doctor to
“clean up his act” or suffer the consequences. Other tests from his
doctor showed that some of his coronary arteries were already
partially blocked. Monty did not know much about a healthy
lifestyle. He loved fast foods, but told me, “My wife and doc are
both pushing me to change my diet, or else. The thing is,” he
continued, “my wife also has high cholesterol and high blood
pressure. She’s about 50 pounds overweight. I want to bring her in
next time. We have a plan to clean up together.” Before menopause,
women have only about 40 percent the incidence of heart attack as
men, but after menopause, and the decline of estrogen, the
comparative risk rises to 70 percent or higher.
I gave Monty a handout that rates common foods and drinks for
their potential to promote heart disease and, eventually, serious
cardiovascular symptoms. Major benefits come from eating as high on
the “heart-friendly scale” as possible every day. A problem with
heart disease is the slow and persistent damage to all of our
body’s vital vessels that happens silently — we often aren’t aware
of the damage until a major symptom or sign occurs. No matter what
kind of symptom patients come in for, I always ask them about their
heart-healthy plan. It’s my job as a health-care provider to
encourage all my patients to have a 10- and 20-year plan for their
heart. Studies have shown that even some teenagers already have
significant damage in their cardiovascular system.
Best and Worst Foods for Heart Health
This scale shows the best and worst choices of foods for heart
health. In this chart, a rating of 10 is the most beneficial; 1 is
the least. In general, when it comes to heart-friendly foods, think
Change Lifestyles Together
Two weeks after I saw Monty for the first time, he and his wife,
Liz, came in together. Liz looked strong, but heavy for her frame.
She was about 55, and very sharp. She wondered if herbal medicine
could help reduce her cholesterol and blood pressure and decrease
For many people, especially “mesomorphs,” or stocky, muscular
types, stress hits the liver first, which can influence the way the
various types of cholesterol are managed in the body. It’s the
liver that manufactures the cholesterol in the first place, and the
liver that breaks it down. Most important, the HDL (high-density
lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol) molecules the liver
manufactures help shuttle cholesterol out of cells, preventing a
buildup that could promote CAD. More than any other kind of
cholesterol, it is important to have a sufficient amount of HDL in
the blood to protect our heart and vessels. Studies show that
people with a genetic profile that dictates lower production of HDL
are at a much higher risk of developing CAD and dying of it.
Both Monty and Liz had risky numbers when it comes to the common
test that most people get — the HDL to total cholesterol ratio. A
better test, with a more accurate predictive value, is the LDL to
HDL ratio. The test costs a bit more, but is worth it.
Herbal Cholesterol Regime
Monty and Liz both were willing to stick to an herbal regime,
and they were serious about limiting some of the lowest-scoring
foods on the heart-friendly scale, especially foods and drinks with
refined sugar. Some recent studies show that sugar might be more
risky than saturated fat in the process of inflammation and
destruction of the vessel linings that lead to CAD.
Because Monty and Liz had signs of chronic inflammation, liver
stagnation and cholesterol imbalance, I designed three herbal
formulas, as follows. The herbs are useful for many people who have
cholesterol imbalances, and are widely available in capsule and
tablet form, and as bulk herbs to make teas. I recommend visiting a
health-care provider before getting started on a
cholesterol-lowering herbal regime. Herbal formulas work much
better when they are matched to each individual. It is vital to
make sure your doctor knows about your herbal program if you are on
any pharmaceutical medications, such as statin drugs.
The first formula was created to balance the liver and reduce
liver inflammation. Herbs to balance the liver (which can help keep
cholesterol in a healthy state) include boldo (Peumus boldus),
dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), burdock root (Arctium lappa)
and yellow dock (Rumex crispus). These herbs are widely available
in tincture form.
To drain pathogenic heat and dampness from the lower part of the
body, I combined two Chinese herbs, phellodendron (Phellodendron
chinense) and sophora root (Sophora spp.), with the bitter herb
gentian (Gentiana lutea). These are very effective herbs — the use
of phellodendron or sophora root should be under the guidance of an
experienced herbalist. Gentian is usually safe in any case.
Lastly, I wanted to regulate bile and reduce total cholesterol,
while preserving or increasing HDL. A number of herbs are known to
help reduce cholesterol while maintaining HDL. Scientific studies
show that the following products can help reduce mildly elevated
cholesterol, and they also work well with a total program for
cholesterol and cardiovascular health.
Red rice yeast is a traditional fermented food that contains a
substance that is chemically similar to lovastatin, a commonly
prescribed cholesterol-lowering drug. A number of controlled human
studies show that regular use can lead to total cholesterol
reductions of up to 23 percent, LDL by 30 percent and triglycerides
by 34 percent, while increasing HDL by up to 20 percent. The
supplement is available online and in some health-food stores, even
though the Food and Drug Administration has voiced disapproval
because of its similarity to prescription statins. Some research
suggests that red rice yeast may be effective with fewer side
effects than comparable drugs, but consult your health-care
provider before using it.
Some studies show that garlic (Allium sativum) has a modest
cholesterol-lowering benefit, while others show no benefit. My
research and experience shows me that the regular use of garlic in
cooking, and/or the regular use of a high allicin-containing garlic
capsule, can provide a definite benefit to the heart and
A standardized artichoke leaf (Cynara scolymus) extract can
moderately reduce total cholesterol while preserving HDL levels. I
often recommend up to a double dose for best results.
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) or reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
mushrooms may be used in cooking (or in supplements) on a regular
basis to help lower cholesterol levels.
Persistence Yields Good Results
I was very confident that Monty and Liz would both see fairly
rapid changes, and at least Liz did. She ended up losing 25 pounds,
which is where she stabilized for about a year. Her LDL to HDL
cholesterol panel returned to the safe range, and stayed there.
Monty was a harder case. He lost some of his excess weight with
dietary changes and some extra exercise. His cholesterol numbers
did improve, but not enough. His total cholesterol fell to about
250. After three months, he started the red rice yeast, and this
further reduced his cholesterol to about 200. His LDL to HDL ratio
finally reached 5 (in the “average risk” range), and his doctor,
who at first was very skeptical, began to accept the results as
Christopher Hobbs’ case studies are gleaned from his 30 years of
studying and practicing herbalism. Hobbs, a fourth-generation
botanist and herbalist, is the creator of the correspondence course
Foundations of Herbalism; www.FoundationsOfHerbalism.com.
“Case Studies” is not intended to replace the advice of your