Lowering Cholesterol: Foods, Herbs, Vitamins and Supplements that Help
Cholesterol is a fat present in the body tissues and blood plasma of the organism. Cholesterol is natural and beneficial in the body, among its numerous functions, it is essential for creating the plasma membrane which regulates the entrance and exit of substances that cross the cell. Nevertheless, too much cholesterol, particularly the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) that can raise the probability of coronary heart illness and cardiovascular accident by building up on arterial walls and clogging the blood vessels. So, does your doctor tell you that your cholesterol is too high and recommend you to take cholesterol-lowering drugs? Well, there are good chances that you don’t need medications. There are foods, herbs, vitamins, and supplements backed by scientific studies, that will help bring down your cholesterol naturally without side effects.
Foods that lower cholesterol
Oatmeal is one of the best natural remedies to treat high levels of LDL or bad cholesterol. The secret of the ability of oatmeal to lower cholesterol has to do with the fiber content of the cereal. Soluble fiber, specifically beta glucan, helps to inhibit the rate of absorption of cholesterol in the intestinal tract. As a result, there is less opportunity for LDL cholesterol to clog the system and remain in the body for long periods of time. According to several studies, people with a total cholesterol level of 220 mg / dl or higher experienced a reduction from 8 to 23 percent in cholesterol levels after addition of oatmeal to their diet.
Besides being a rich source of soluble fiber, oats contains compounds called saponins, which collaborate with dietary fiber and help the body eliminate cholesterol. Saponins are one of the components of the food that reduce intestinal absorption of cholesterol, reducing LDL in the blood.
Additionally, oats contain avenanthramides. According to a research published in the journal “Atherosclerosis”, the avenanthramides are unique antioxidant compounds in oats that provide additional benefits to heart health. The avenanthramides help prevent free radicals from occurring with LDL and suppress the production of molecules involved in the development of atherosclerosis, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios…more than simple tasty snacks can now be considered allies of the anti-cholesterol struggle. According to a study published in Archives of Internal Medicine, a handful of these foods can help keep at bay especially LDL cholesterol. The effect of walnuts on blood cholesterol levels was studied by researchers from the Japan Kyushu University. Men and women in good health had been given a regular healthy diet plan in addition to or without walnuts. The results of the studies were released inside the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition of July 2002. The researchers reported that the individuals that were given a diet rich in walnut got diminutions of their total cholesterol levels as well as of their LDL levels in comparison with individuals that followed a walnut-free diet.
The nuts are especially rich in beneficial and essential nutrients for our body: vitamins (like vitamin E), minerals (such as selenium, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium), monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants. On the one hand, vitamin E is an antioxidant nutrient that enhances cellular metabolism and reduces fat oxidation, whereas their content of omega 3 and 6 increase the concentration of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol. On the other hand, their fiber content removes excess LDL, which results in that nuts are beneficial to increase HDL and to lower LDL levels.
From a nutritional point of view, the salmon is grouped with tuna, sardines, herring, mackerel, and trout in the “fatty fish”, which are distinguished by their exquisite taste and because 10% of their weight is fat (while there is only 5% in lean fish).
Regular consumption of this type of fish is strongly recommended to all people because of their nutritional properties, however, it is much more advisable for those who are at risk for cardiovascular disease or thrombosis (partial or total obstruction of the bloodstream, caused by a clot).
Recommending fatty fish is not a contradiction since the predominant type of fat in these fish (unsaturated fats among which omega-3 fatty acid) is useful in the prevention and treatment of health problems of the circulatory system.
The beneficial effects on cardiovascular health attributed to Omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) would be the result of the following mechanisms: decreased plasma triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, a slight increase of HDL cholesterol, decreased blood pressure, decreased platelet aggregation and decreased the incidence of arrhythmias.
The results of epidemiological and intervention studies indicate that consumption of Omega-3 can favorably affect the cardiovascular health and cholesterol. The Seven Countries Study (SCS) concluded that men who ate 30 grams of fish per day reduced the risk of mortality from coronary heart disease by 50% compared to volunteers who did not eat fish. The Western Electric Study shows that men who ate more than 35 grams of fish per day had a relative risk of mortality from coronary disease of 0.62 compared to those who rarely consume fish and the Study on Prevention of Coronary Atherosclerosis by Intervention with Marine Omega-3 (SCIMO) published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, demonstrated a reduction in the development of atherosclerosis by administering 1.6 grams of omega-3 per day.
If fish is not your taste, you can choose to take an omega-3 dietary supplement. However, you won’t obtain the additional well-being advantages of consuming fish, such as healthy proteins and selenium.
Eating 2 cups wild blueberries a day for two months can reduce chronic inflammation, improve fat metabolism and lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, according to research by Dorothy J. Klimis-Zacas, Professor of Clinical Nutrition at the University of Maine.
In addition, Klimis-Zacas says that a diet enriched with this fruit can normalize gene expression of inflammatory markers and related lipid and lipoprotein metabolism.
Heart disease alone kills 600,000 people annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Disease Prevention.
Being able to improve health by eating blueberries rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that prevent degenerative diseases, rather than relying on pharmaceuticals, is a great benefit, she says.
Klimis-Zacas is the first to report that wild blueberries reduced triglycerides (fatty substances) in the blood of rats in vivo.
Blueberries lowered LDL cholesterol that increases the risk of a heart attack, while the level of the beneficial cholesterol HDL remains, said Klimis-Zacas, who has studied nutrition benefits of wild blueberries for 15 years.
Today there are numerous studies that have investigated the properties and benefits of olive oil on cholesterol, and olive oil helps lower cholesterol. According to these studies, it appears that the key is found in its monounsaturated fatty acids.
Not surprisingly, an American research led by Dr Scott M. Grundy some years ago, found that adults who, in general, consume about 25 ml (two tablespoons) of olive oil on a daily basis for a week have a blood concentration much higher in antioxidants (most notably in this case polyphenols), and a lower oxidation of LDL.
In addition, it has been known for some time that the daily consumption of olive oil helps increase HDL, from 3 to about 6%. This is a result not only of the aforementioned monounsaturated fatty acids but its high content of antioxidants and vitamin E.
An apple a day really keeps the doctor away, at least the cardiologist. This fruit fights high cholesterol and promotes heart health according to a research led by Dr. Bahram Arjmandi of the Department of Nutrition at the University of Florida, presented during the 2011 annual meeting of Experimental Biology.
According to Arjmandi, animal studies have led to the conclusion that the pectin and polyphenols – antioxidants present in the skin of apples help eliminate waste and toxins found in the organism, improves lipid metabolism, and reduces production of the inflammatory molecules linked to a risk of heart disease.
His team analyzed a sample of 160 women between 45 and 65 years, which were randomly divided into two groups; one group consumed 75 g of dried apples per day for one year and the rest consumed prunes during the same period. Doctors did blood tests at three, six and twelve months and discovered “the incredible changes that occur in cholesterol levels after six months of eating an apple a day”, according to Arjamandi.
Women who took apple cut by 23 percent LDL cholesterol, and increased by 4 percent HDL cholesterol. “I never thought that eating apples both reduces the level of bad cholesterol while increasing the good”, said Arjamandi.
Eating one serving a day of beans, chickpeas, peas or lentils helps to reduce LDL, and decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease according to a study conducted by a group of researchers at the Clinical Center of Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification of St. Michael ‘s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, and published in Canadian Medical Association Journal, on April 7, 2014.
The researchers analyzed 26 randomized controlled trials involving a total of 1,037 participants for a follow – up period of three weeks, and found an association between eating at least one serving a day of chickpeas, lentils or beans, and a reduction of 5% levels of “bad” cholesterol compared to the control group, which followed a diet containing the same amount of calories, but did not include legumes. A serving of beans or lentils equals to 130 g or 3/4 cup. The 5% reduction in LDL cholesterol suggests, according to the researchers , a decrease of up to 6% of the potential risk of developing cardiovascular disease .
It is important to note that randomized controlled trials represent the gold standard of medical research. Moreover, the researchers chose a three-week follow-up, as this is the time used by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to evaluate products or drugs that reduce cholesterol.
The study findings revealed that men had higher LDL cholesterol reduction compared to women. This result is probably due to the fact that they have, in general, worse eating habits, and higher levels of cholesterol than women.
Herbs that may lower cholesterol (additional studies are needed)
Scientists of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine found that people who usually consume the spice, had a decrease in triglycerides and levels of total cholesterol and LDL, the latter associated with a risk of heart attack. Published in the Annals of Family Medicine, the study showed that after eating for 40 days a dose of cinnamon, of between 1 and 6 grams, there is an average LDL cholesterol decrease of 7%, although in some cases the reduction was 27%.
Cinnamon has essential oils, terpenes, mucilage, vitamin A, vitamin B complex, magnesium, zinc, iodine, and flavonoids. All these substances promote blood circulation and influence the metabolism of carbohydrates, preventing them from becoming fat and thus preventing the formation of plaques of cholesterol in arterial walls.
This study validates what had already discovered before experts from the Department of Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, which had shown that cinnamon is beneficial to combat high cholesterol in the blood. On that occasion, the experts noted that by only consuming half a teaspoon of this herb per day, levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood decreased.
In 2003, the Diabetes Care journal reported that patients with diabetes who included in their daily diet 1g of cinnamon for 40 days, had a decrease in cholesterol and triglycerides, but also lowered the level of glucose in the blood. They explained that this is because cinnamon has methyl hydroxy chalcone polymer (MHCP) which acts like insulin.
While garlic is thought to “repel vampires”, to humans garlic brings many health benefits. A variety of properties in garlic appears to positively affect the human cardiovascular system. Due to the high content of antioxidants in garlic, scientists believe that this plant can reduce the effects of LDL cholesterol in the body. Antioxidants prevent the oxidation of free radicals that help form the arterial plaque. Therefore, by reducing the prevalence of free radicals in the body, antioxidants reduce plaque accumulation.
Yu-Yan Yeh, a researcher at Penn State University, conducted numerous studies for several years evaluating the cholesterol-lowering properties of garlic. He found that in both rats and humans, garlic resulted in a decrease in total cholesterol levels in the blood.
A recent study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture shows that this herb also reduces levels of cholesterol and total triglycerides. The work, by researchers at the Institute of Toxicology of Shandong University (China), analyzed 26 previous studies evaluating the effects of garlic, finding that the best results are obtained in long-term treatments. The authors conclude that therapies with garlic can be beneficial in patients at risk for cardiovascular disease.
However, there is also evidence that refutes these claims. Some publications recently announced the possibility that garlic may have no effect on cholesterol. USA Today reported that in a 2007 study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, garlic given to people with relatively high levels of LDL cholesterol revealed no significant changes than those of the participants who received a placebo. The study involved 192 adults divided into four groups. Three groups took a form of garlic, either raw or in supplement form as an extract. The fourth group took a placebo.
Regardless of research potentially undermining the impact on cholesterol garlic, garlic can benefit the body in a multitude of other ways. Garlic has antibacterial properties and therefore can reject harmful bacteria such as Salmonella. It has also been found that garlic helps with acne, blood clots and slow down the aging process of the liver. However, any excess can be harmful. Despite its many virtues, health authorities recommend restricting consumption of garlic to people undergoing anticoagulant treatments or stomach problems because they can irritate the gastrointestinal tract.
Surely green tea lovers have reasons to take this medicinal herb, but now a medical study confirms the benefits that can generate this herb. According to a research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, taking it daily leads to a reduction in bad cholesterol, which would confirm the relationship observed so far between drink tea consumption and lower cardiovascular risk.
The research has included the results of 14 previous trials. In each, experts randomly divided people into two groups: one with people who had drunk green tea or taken its extract for periods between three weeks and three months and the second with people who had been given a placebo for the same periods. On average, green tea drinkers completed studies with 7.2 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of cholesterol lower than the control groups. LDL reduction was 2.2 mg/dL, a drop just below 2%. By contrast, it hardly occurred a difference in HDL levels among groups.
This cholesterol-lowering effect should, according to the authors, be attributed to chemicals called catechins present in green tea, which limit cholesterol absorption in the intestines.
Some experts have questioned the adverse effects of excessive consumption of green tea or extract. There are, for example, several reports of liver damage and interactions with other medicines that reduce the effectiveness of drugs. However, taken in small doses, green tea “would be a useful component of a heart-healthy diet” and with effects that outweigh lowering cholesterol.
Recommended vitamins and supplements to improve and maintain healthy cholesterol levels
What makes LDL cholesterol bad is, in fact, its oxidation that creates plaque buildup leading to atherosclerosis. This oxidation can occur in different ways. One of these ways involves free radicals damage and this is where vitamin E comes into play. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that will deactivate the free radicals shielding cell membranes from damage and prevent LDL oxidation. Less LDL oxidation = Less Atherosclerosis = Reduced Heart Disease Risk.
Fiber lowers LDL cholesterol by acting like a sponge that absorbs cholesterol by binding it to bile acids for its removal. As a result, the body starts lacking of bile acids and the liver is instructed to pull excess LDL cholesterol from the blood for bile production. LDL levels are thus reduced in the bloodstream. According to the UCSF Medical Center and the British Nutrition Foundation, the average daily fiber intake of men and women is 15 grams while the recommended daily intake is 25-30 grams. Supplementing fiber intake is thus recommended.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the critical role of Omega 3 fatty acids in brain, heart and vascular health by helping maintain cell membrane stability, reducing inflammation, lowering triglycerides levels, increasing HDL and improving LDL particles size so they stick less to arterial walls. The human body cannot produce omega 3, so a dietary supply is necessary. Fatty fish such as mackerel, tuna, and halibut are the primary sources of the most viable forms of omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. However, these fatty fish can be contaminated with mercury and other toxins. Fish oil supplements can be a good alternative and supply you with a healthy dose of omega 3 without any toxins.
DHA supplements for vegans
If you are vegetarian, allergic to fish or you simply do not like eating fish, you may not be getting enough DHA omega 3 essential fatty acids vital for neurological and cardiovascular health in your diet. Supplementing DHA is thus recommended. The most viable vegan source is Algal DHA extracted from some microscopic algae that in fact are the origin of DHA in fish. According to studies, algal DHA can provide the same health benefits as fish one in lowering triglycerides, increasing HDL and improving LDL particles size.