Our body needs cholesterol. It is necessary to make bile, hormones, and vitamin D. It also serves as a building block of tissues since it is crucial for the creation of cell membranes and cell structures. Unfortunately in some individuals, cholesterol levels in the blood go beyond the normal and healthy range. In these cases, failure to lower cholesterol, increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, cognitive impairment, gallstones, and other health issues.
Cholesterol and Triglycerides
As we get our cholesterol levels checked, we can know our complete lipid profile. This describes the varying levels of lipids in our blood – our low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides.
High LDL, also known as bad cholesterol, is considered a major factor in developing heart diseases because it irritates the lining of blood vessels and hardens tissues and arteries. HDL, on the other hand, is deemed as the good cholesterol because it carries cholesterols from the tissue to the liver, which then works to eliminate excess lipids from the body. So, HDL helps to lower our LDLs and VLDLs.
Triglycerides in our blood are derived from fats eaten in foods or other energy sources. Some natural health practitioners tend to pay much more attention to high triglycerides than slightly over-the-norm levels of cholesterol.
Cholesterol and Metabolic Syndrome
Aside from increasing your chances of developing cardiovascular diseases, high cholesterol and high triglyceride levels may lead to metabolic syndrome. Perhaps you already have these other symptoms as well and are not aware they are part of a syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a term referring to a group of metabolic disorders characterized by high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and abdominal obesity, as well as high cholesterol and triglycerides. Around 34% of Americans suffer from these conditions. In another blog post, we have discussed metabolic syndrome in detail. If your numbers exceed the parameters or you are along the borderline, you need to seriously consider our suggested ways how to lower cholesterol naturally.
What can we do to lower cholesterol levels?
There are some less controllable factors that predispose a person to high cholesterol or hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol in the blood) like heredity, age, and sex. But, luckily, we can still be in control of our health and influence our genetics by making healthy lifestyle choices. The National Institute of Health recommends a program called TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes), a three-part approach that uses diet, physical activity, and weight management to reduce high cholesterol.
In this blog, we will highlight five ways to attain healthy cholesterol levels:
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Keep an ideal weight
- Quit smoking
- Take natural supplements
Remember the saying, “a moment in your lips, forever in your hips”? That is so true! Our weight and our cholesterol levels are directly related to the amount, frequency, and kind of food we eat. To reduce cholesterol levels, the #1 rule is to have a disciplined and healthy diet.
Among all the foods that we take, the worst culprits for high cholesterol and triglyceride levels are transfats (such as fried foods), saturated fats (such as meats), and sugars (including refined flour like bread). To avoid these, we can follow these simple recommendations:
- Do not overeat.
- Plan healthy menus for the whole family.
- Cut out sugar.
- Eat only wholesome fats such as olive oil.
- Consume fruits, vegetables, and other foods rich in fiber.
- Enjoy home-cooked meals as often as possible instead of eating out.
- Eat more fish than meat (limit eating lean meats to twice a week).
To lower cholesterol levels naturally, consider eating the following superfoods:
In our blog “Globe Artichoke Benefits for Digestion and the Gallbladder”, we have highlighted the numerous benefits of this vegetable for the gut, the liver, and gallbladder. It is rich in fiber, protein, and antioxidants. It tastes great too!
Aside from that, there are a lot of studies supporting claims that artichoke leaf extract helps lower cholesterol. This is mainly because of the effects of cynarine, a type of compound that increases bile production and boosts bile flow. Both mechanisms help increase cholesterol excretion from the body. Although not yet fully explained and understood, flavonoids in artichokes are also said to contribute to reducing the risk of heart diseases by lowering overall cholesterol levels.
The steroidal saponins found in fenugreek help reduce the body’s production of cholesterol and slow the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines. Moreover, fenugreek is also believed to decrease the amount of triglyceride absorption from fatty foods. Fenugreek is so effective in reducing cholesterol and triglycerides that it can even be compared (though it is not yet at par) with prescribed statin medications.
In an animal experiment, administration of fenugreek seed extract to high-cholesterol-fed rats significantly lowered total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL while increasing HDL. Furthermore, the activity of substances in fenugreek lowered oxidative stress.
Flaxseeds are rich in dietary fiber, lignans, phenolic compounds, and a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. Collectively, these compounds help prevent cholesterol from being deposited in arteries. In a study among individuals with high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, it was reported that flaxseed supplementation resulted in the improvement of blood pressure, lipid profile, and Body Mass Indes (BMI). It also lowered LDL and increased HDL.
If you have high cholesterol, then green tea would be one of the most beneficial drinks you could take.
Green tea inhibits LDL oxidation, a characteristic feature in the hardening of cholesterol and fatty plaques in the arteries. Catechins found in green tea also decrease the absorption of cholesterol in the gut. Lastly, an analysis of 14 randomized controlled trials also had a common conclusion – green tea beverages or extracts result in a significant reduction in plasma cholesterol and LDL concentrations.
Turmeric and Ginger
These rhizomes from the same plant family are two of the most studied herbal remedies for various ailments.
In our blog “Turmeric Benefits and Your Gallbladder Health”, we have highlighted how turmeric helps regulate cholesterol levels. Curcumin in turmeric minimizes cholesterol absorption in the gut, reduces cholesterol production in the liver, lowers triglyceride levels, and decreases LDL levels while reducing its oxidation in the arteries. This makes turmeric an effective agent against fatty liver disease and cardiovascular issues. It is not recommended with gallstones, however, since turmeric may increase gallbladder contractions.
Ginger, on the other hand, also decreases total cholesterol levels and blood pressure in patients with high cholesterol. In various studies, ginger was reported to significantly elevate the activity of hepatic cholesterol-7α-hydroxylase. This enzyme limits the rate of bile acids biosynthesis, thereby stimulating cholesterol conversion to bile acids, resulting in the elimination of cholesterol from the body.
Ginger and artichoke are among the herbs found in our Gallbladder Formula Elite.
The importance of regular physical activity cannot be overemphasized. A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to health issues like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, depression, and obesity. It is therefore not surprising that the lack of exercise has a direct impact on bad cholesterol levels. Conversely, physical activity like aerobic exercise and resistance training can help lower blood pressure, raise HDL, and lower triglycerides.
At the moment, there is still no standard on the optimal mode, frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise to lower cholesterol levels. However, it has been determined that the required energy expenditure to merit an increase in good cholesterol is 1,100 kcal. With the right intensity and duration to meet that requirement, you will also be able to increase the activity of lipoprotein lipase which breaks down triglycerides. To give you an idea of how much you need to do to reach 1,000 calories, here are some physical activities that you can engage in:
- Brisk walking for 25 minutes – 200 calories*
- Running for 30 minutes – 280 calories*
- Leisure biking for 30 minutes – 200 calories*
- Elliptical machine workout for 30 minutes – 400 calories*
- Swimming, slow treading – 150 calories*
*These numbers are approximated calorie counts that may vary based on your weight, intensity, and metabolic rate.
Exercise also enhances the ability of the skeletal muscles to use up fats instead of glycogens, therefore reducing the amount of fats in the blood. It also influences certain enzymatic activities necessary for the removal of cholesterol from circulation in the body.
Watch your weight.
To determine your ideal weight, it is important to compute for the BMI or body mass index. Although this is not an exact measurement of body composition, it serves as a good approximation and assessment of how much fat is carried by an individual. By entering the height and weight of a person, the BMI calculator determines whether a person is overweight or obese. If the result is higher than 24.9, then it’s time to lose weight.
Excess weight tends to raise triglycerides and increase LDL levels. On the other hand, losing as little as 10 pounds can reduce LDL levels by as much as 8%. For individuals who are overweight, the benefits of weight loss can often be experienced before they reach their goal. After losing the first 10% of their current body weight, their risk for heart disease is already significantly reduced.
When you think about it, there really is nothing healthy about smoking. But it is especially harmful to the heart and the lungs because of its pro-inflammatory and pro-oxidative effects. Cigarette smoking is linked to high cholesterol levels. Each stick of cigarette contributes to the thickening of the blood, clogging of arteries, weakening of the immune system, and aggravation of inflammation, among others.
But if you’re currently hooked or if you have been smoking for a long time, don’t fret because there is still hope. Smoking cessation has an almost instantaneous positive impact on overall health.
Research shows that when an individual stops smoking, the risk of developing chronic diseases decreases gradually. Within 20 minutes after the last puff, blood pressure and heart rate go down. Within two weeks, blood circulation improves. In three weeks, HDL levels can increase by as much as 30%. Cigarette smoking-induced LDL is partially reversible. Lower cholesterol levels can be expected and it will continue to get better with each day and month after quitting.
Take natural supplements.
Individuals with extremely high cholesterol or those with cardiovascular diseases may be prescribed statin medication, drugs that help lower cholesterol. If your physician gives you some time to try natural methods, there are several good supplements that may be helpful.
L-carnitine is a popular weight loss supplement for its role in energy metabolism and production. It is naturally found in the body but can also be taken as a supplement.
I have recommended supplemental L-carnitine over the years to patients with high triglycerides with remarkable results. The exact mechanism by which L-carnitine reduces triglycerides or cholesterol is not yet known. However, studies show that it helps:
- boost strength and endurance
- support weight loss and reduce Body Mass Index
- increase energy expenditure and fat burning
- modulate fuel metabolism
- prevent body fat accumulation
These mechanisms happen due to L-carnitine’s ability to influence fat oxidation, protein turnover, body composition, and weight development.
There are two main types of dietary fiber – soluble and insoluble.
Insoluble fiber goes through the digestive tract largely undissolved. Soluble fiber, on the other hand, dissolves and transforms into a gel in the intestines. Although both fibers have health benefits, only soluble fiber has an impact on cholesterol levels since it can block fats from being absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream.
As little as 5-10 grams of soluble fiber a day can already help drop LDL levels by 5%. Imagine how much more the recommended daily intake of 25 grams can improve your cholesterol levels. A meta-analysis of 67 clinical trials using soluble fiber states that supplementation may reduce total cholesterol by as much as 60-70%.
Some food items that are sure to increase your daily fiber intake and are easy to incorporate into your daily meals are the following:
- Paleo Thin Wraps – Paleo wraps are low in carbohydrates but high in fiber. One wrap already has 9 grams of fiber. It is gluten-free and GMO-free too. Paleo Thin Wraps are made up of organic coconut flour, organic digestive resistant prebiotic tapioca fiber, flax and chia seeds, and psyllium among others.
- Apples – Add one apple a day to your diet to increase your soluble fiber. One medium apple contains about 4.4 gm of fiber, 80% of which is soluble. This soluble pectin is also purported to support gallstone dissolution.
- Sweet potatoes – Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A and beta carotene. Aside from being nutritious, they are also very filling, versatile, and high in fiber. 100 grams of sweet potato has 3 grams of soluble fiber.
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is another supplement used to lower cholesterol levels. Some studies cite that niacin may be a potential vitamin to take with prescribed statins. If you are on a statin drug, ask your doctor for permission to take niacin together with your medication.
Vitamin B3 is necessary for the proper function of fats and sugars in the body. It is also crucial in maintaining healthy cells. At high doses, niacin might help people with cardiovascular disease as it influences blood clotting. It raises good cholesterol while simultaneously lowering bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
Berberine is an alkaloid isolated from several traditional Chinese herbs. It has been used as early as three millenniums ago for diarrhea, eye irritation, and bacterial and fungal infections. Berberine is well known today for its ability to lower high blood sugar levels, often connected with high cholesterol.
It helps regulate cholesterol levels by affecting AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), an enzyme that is involved in the body’s energy production and expenditure. If AMPK levels are unbalanced, it may impact the regulation of cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
According to numerous studies, berberine may support patients with arrhythmia, hypertension, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Remember the reverse cholesterol transport I mentioned earlier? This process of cholesterol removal from circulation in the body happens during exercise but it can also happen with the intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Through supplementation and consumption of omega-3 rich foods, the levels of good cholesterol or HDL increase, and lipid extraction through the hepatobiliary system are also increased. Some excess cholesterol circulating in the body is disposed of through the bile and released through the stools.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids like EPA and DHA protect the arteries and the heart by promoting the breakdown of fat-binding proteins. They also reduce LDL synthesis and stimulate the clearance of triglycerides in the blood.
In our blog post about Vitamin D3 and K2, we discussed the immune-boosting abilities of the combo. And while K2 is best known for moving calcium around the body, recent studies suggest that this vitamin is also able to protect arteries and blood vessels. The Rotterdam Study, a ten-year observation with more than 4,800 subjects aged 55 and above, concluded that individuals with the highest vitamin K2 intake had lower total cholesterol values and higher levels of heart-protective HDL cholesterol. These subjects also have 57% lower risk of dying from heart disease.
Foods rich in vitamin K2 include meat, soy, cheese, butter, and eggs – all under our “do not eat” list since they may be difficult for your digestion and may trigger a gallbladder attack. Thankfully, there are available supplements that you may take daily.
Our very own Gallbladder Formula Elite and Metabolic Symmetry are two formulas that we have specifically designed to support healthy cholesterol levels and address Metabolic Syndrome.
The Gallbladder Formula Elite contains the following:
- Bile salts to support fat digestion and bile flow
- Coptis Chinensis with berberine to support blood sugar and inflammation
- Ginger to support digestion, nausea, and inflammation
- Artichoke leaf extract to support liver detoxification, healthy bile flow, relaxation of muscle tissues and healthy cholesterol
- Taurine for support of fat digestion and bile flow as well as anxiety
- Protease enzymes (vegan) to support protein digestion
Metabolic Symmetry, on the other hand, contains dichrostachys glomerata which is known to support healthy blood sugar, healthy cholesterol, and healthy weight management.
Kritchevsky, D., Tepper, S. A., & Klurfeld, D. M. (1984). Effect of pectin and cellulose on formation and regression of gallstones in hamsters. Experientia, 40(4), 350-351.
Alizadeh-Navaei, R., Roozbeh, F., Saravi, M., Pouramir, M., Jalali, F., & Moghadamnia, A. A. (2008). Investigation of the effect of ginger on the lipid levels. A double blind controlled clinical trial. Saudi Med J, 29(9), 1280-4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18813412
Bursill, C. A., Abbey, M., & Roach, P. D. (2007). A green tea extract lowers plasma cholesterol by inhibiting cholesterol synthesis and upregulating the LDL receptor in the cholesterol-fed rabbit. Atherosclerosis, 193(1), 86-93. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16970948
Yang, T. T. C., & Koo, M. W. L. (2000). Inhibitory effect of Chinese green tea on endothelial cell-induced LDL oxidation. Atherosclerosis, 148(1), 67-73. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10580172
Zhang, Y., Chen, L. F., Feng, C., Wu, W. L., & Yan, X. W. (2015). ASSA14-13-01 Cigarette smoking-induced LDL dysfunction is partially reversible after smoking cessation. https://heart.bmj.com/content/101/Suppl_1/A40.2
Brown, L., Rosner, B., Willett, W. W., & Sacks, F. M. (1999). Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 69(1), 30-42. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/69/1/30/4694117
Doggrell, S. A. (2005). Berberine–a novel approach to cholesterol lowering: KONG W, WEI J, ABIDI P et al.: Berberine is a novel cholesterol-lowering drug working through a unique mechanism distinct from statins. Nat. Med.(2005) 12: 1344-1351. Expert opinion on investigational drugs, 14(5), 683-685. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15926873
Orer, G. E., & Guzel, N. A. (2014). The effects of acute l-carnitine supplementation on endurance performance of athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(2), 514-519. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24263659
Pooyandjoo, M., Nouhi, M., Shab‐Bidar, S., Djafarian, K., & Olyaeemanesh, A. (2016). The effect of (L‐) carnitine on weight loss in adults: a systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Obesity reviews, 17(10), 970-976. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27335245
Al Rajabi, A., Castro, G. S., da Silva, R. P., Nelson, R. C., Thiesen, A., Vannucchi, H., … & Jacobs, R. L. (2013). Choline supplementation protects against liver damage by normalizing cholesterol metabolism in Pemt/Ldlr knockout mice fed a high-fat diet. The Journal of nutrition, 144(3), 252-257. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24368431
Zheng, X. X., Xu, Y. L., Li, S. H., Liu, X. X., Hui, R., & Huang, X. H. (2011). Green tea intake lowers fasting serum total and LDL cholesterol in adults: a meta-analysis of 14 randomized controlled trials. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 94(2), 601-610. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21715508
Sharma, M. S., & Choudhary, P. R. (2014). Hypolipidemic effect of fenugreek seeds and its comparison with atorvastatin on experimentally induced hyperlipidemia. J Coll Physicians Surg Pak, 24(8), 539-42. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25149829
Belguith-Hadriche, O., Bouaziz, M., Jamoussi, K., El Feki, A., Sayadi, S., & Makni-Ayedi, F. (2010). Lipid-lowering and antioxidant effects of an ethyl acetate extract of fenugreek seeds in high-cholesterol-fed rats. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 58(4), 2116-2122. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20108903
Pizzini, A., Lunger, L., Demetz, E., Hilbe, R., Weiss, G., Ebenbichler, C., & Tancevski, I. (2017). The role of omega-3 fatty acids in reverse cholesterol transport: A review. Nutrients, 9(10), 1099. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5691715/
Saxena, S., & Katare, C. (2014). Evaluation of flaxseed formulation as a potential therapeutic agent in mitigation of dyslipidemia. Biomed J, 37(6), 386-90. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25163498
Murad, S., Niaz, K., & Aslam, H. (2018). Effects of Ginger on LDL-C, Total Cholesterol and Body Weight. Clin Med Biochem, 4(140), 2471-2663.Pizzini, A., Lunger, L., Demetz, E., Hilbe, R., Weiss, G., Ebenbichler, C., & Tancevski, I. (2017). The role of omega-3 fatty acids in reverse cholesterol transport: A review. Nutrients, 9(10), 1099.