Curb High Cholesterol

Natural remedies can bring down your cholesterol with no side effects

| March/April 2006

It’s no secret that high cholesterol can put you at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes). And even though unhealthy cholesterol levels can almost always be kept in check with some common-sense lifestyle changes, most of us don’t have a clue how to apply these smart strategies to our own lives. As a result, the number of Americans with high cholesterol levels is skyrocketing.

Currently, an estimated 107 million American adults have total blood cholesterol values in the “borderline high risk” range of 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and higher, according to the American Heart Association. Of these, about 37.7 million people have levels of 240 or above — the level at which most doctors whip out the prescription pad for one of the cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, despite these drugs’ list of nasty side effects, which can include fatigue, muscle weakness, liver damage and possibly even ocular hemorrhage.

These drugs aren’t just reserved for people at high risk. Recently, an international team of researchers said that anyone who smokes, is overweight or obese, has diabetes or suffers from high blood pressure should be a candidate for statin drugs. Other scientists have gone even further, saying that everyone older than 55 should be taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, whether or not they have elevated cholesterol levels. But should any of these factors mean an automatic ticket to statin land? Most alternative health practitioners say no and offer a host of safe, natural ways to bring cholesterol levels back down into a healthy range.

Bad Versus Good

Despite its bad reputation, cholesterol actually plays an important role in health. We need cholesterol to build and maintain cell membranes; for the production of sex hormones; to aid in the manufacture of bile (which helps digest fats); and to convert sunshine to vitamin D. Cholesterol also is important for the metabolism of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E and K. Cholesterol is produced by the body and is also obtained through diet (mainly from animal foods and some tropical oils high in saturated fats). The trouble begins when we have too much of the wrong type of cholesterol.

Essentially, there are two types of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the so-called “bad” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol into the arteries, where it sticks to arterial walls and contributes to plaque build-up. According to recent evidence uncovered by researchers at Michigan State University, this layer of plaque can then crystallize, expand and burst, sending the plaque shooting into the bloodstream. This chain of events kick-starts the body’s natural clotting process, essentially shutting down the artery.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as the “good” cholesterol. HDL keeps track of LDL levels, moving the excess to the liver where it is reused, converted to bile acids or excreted out of the body. The goal is to keep your LDL levels low and your HDL levels high. According to the government’s National Cholesterol Education Program, that means striving for an optimal LDL level below 100 mg/dL and an HDL level above 60 mg/dL. Total cholesterol levels — the sum of all the cholesterol in your body — should ideally be below 200 mg/dL.

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