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Alternatives to Lowering Cholesterol

There is no doubt that foremost for the prevention and treatment of heart disease is the management of cholesterol. One cannot only look at the overall cholesterol to make proper assessments. The ratios of HDL to LDL is important, and the ratio of HDL to total cholesterol, the ratio of cholesterol to total triglycerides, the protective factors of homocysteine and lipo-a factors, and the absence of inflammation all need to be assessed to give a complete picture of a person’s cardiovascular risk.

Let‘s look a bit deeper into these values. HDL cholesterol is referred to as good because it is being transported back to the liver for processing. It protects the heart. Most standard test values put the low range at 35 mg/dl. The higher this number the more protective the factors. LDL cholesterol is being transported to tissues, and higher levels are considered to increase risk factors. The ratio of HDL to LDL is one way of assessing if cholesterol is depositing into tissues or being broken down properly.

Of course, we know that dietary factors influence our cholesterol levels. The U.S. Surgeon General and the American Heart Association recommend six guidelines:

  • Reduce total fat intake to less than 30 percent of total calories
  • Eat five or more servings of fresh vegetables and fruits daily
  • Increase fiber intake
  • Maintain protein intake at moderate levels
  • Balance food intake with exercise
  • Limit the intake of alcohol, refined carbohydrates, and salt

The main problem with us Americans is that we find it difficult to adopt a healthy lifestyle and would prefer to eat “junk” food and take medicines no matter the cost physically and to the pocketbook. This is where drugs like the statin family are being promoted.

Let’s look at this class of medications. You might be familiar with Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol, and Zocor. These are players in the statin family. They are classed as HMG Co A reductase inhibitors. What does that mean? These drugs inhibit the enzymes required for the manufacture of cholesterol in the liver. Doesn’t sound so bad as a way to reduce cholesterol; however, in preventing the enzymes from working, the statins block the manufacture of other substances necessary for body functions. One major nutrient important in preventing heart disease is the enzyme Co Q10. As stated in a recent book The Drug Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook, and I quote “The so-called statin drugs are the prescription of choice for people with high cholesterol. Statin drugs are generally safe and effective for a limited time, but patients should be monitored for possible adverse consequences of Co Q10 reductions during long-term use.” Other health problems associated with these drugs are congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and low energy. It is recommended that liver enzymes be checked regularly when using the statin family for long periods of time.

If the goal of reducing cholesterol is to prevent heart attacks, does it make sense to deplete a major nutrient in the process that protects the heart? Co Q10 deficiency has been attributed to numerous cardiac problems like angina, hypertension, mitral valve prolapse, and congestive heart failure. Co Q10 has shown clinically to have beneficial effect on blood triglycerides and cholesterol levels.

Let’s look at a few other nutrients that can be of benefit without negative side effects. The first one being niacin. Niacin or B3 (a B complex member) has long been used to lower cholesterol levels. It is recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Program as the first “drug” of choice. Niacin was the only substance to demonstrate a decreased mortality in a project called the Coronary Drug Project. Because of the high levels used in the studies (1 gram three times a day), it became evident that these dosage levels produced side effects like extreme flushing, stomach irritation, ulcers, liver damage, and fatigue. Straight niacin is no longer recommended; however, another form that does not have any negative side effects is called inositol hexaniacinate or flush- free niacin. This form has been in use for a long time in Europe. Niacin’s ability to lower cholesterol showed about a 20% decrease in overall cholesterol with a 32% increase in HDL cholesterol.

Another of the B family is a nutrient called pantethine. This is a derivative of pantothenic acid. Pantothenic acid is the most important component of CoA (coenzyme A) which is used to transport fats to and from cells. Remember statin drugs and how they inhibit CoA? Pantethine has been shown to lower cholesterol levels by 20%, increase HDL by 23%, and lower triglycerides by 32%.

Garlic and onion have numerous benefits to the cardiovascular system. The equivalent of one clove of garlic or one half an onion a day has been shown to reduce overall cholesterol by 10-15% with a great benefit to the elevation of the HDL cholesterol by as much as 30%.

The extract from the myrrh tree called gum guggul has shown great results in lowering overall cholesterol, elevating HDL, and lowering triglycerides. Two compounds called guggulesterones are responsible for these effects. These effects were noted without dietary changes over a short period of time. One nice thing about guggul is that there are no side effects, and it is safe to use during pregnancy. Guggul has been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years.

There is much research going on in relation to cholesterol and heart disease. Of course, lifestyle modifications are the best way to bring about balance; however, each person is unique and must be assessed individually. Do research on your own if you are interested in a natural approach and be sure to consult with your health care practitioner.

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