With rates such as 1 out of 3 North Americans having high cholesterol, it’s no wonder that rates of heart disease are high. According to the CDC, approximately 33.5% of Americans have high LDL (“bad” cholesterol), but less than half are actually getting it treated. This factor ALONE can double your risk of heart disease. A lot of people don’t want to be on cholesterol medication for the rest of their life, so here are some tips of what I do with patients to reduce cholesterol levels:
1. Diet: We all know this is important. In fact, conventional treatment guidelines for medical doctors recommend 6 months of dietary modification BEFORE going on cholesterol medication to see if it will reduce levels. I can tell you, from my own experience, and the experience of my patients, that this route is not adequately explored. Patients aren’t told HOW to modify their diet beyond eating less meat and cholesterol containing foods (speaking of which, NO, eggs do not increase your cholesterol levels – more about that in blogs to come). Dietary counseling cannot adequately happen in a doctor’s visit that spans 10 minutes and with doctors who often have inadequate training in nutrition. And, without recipes and tools to implement dietary changes, we are setting up patients to fail. If you truly want to give diet a chance at reducing your cholesterol levels, go to an ND or nutritionist to get properly coached on how to do this.
2. Plant Sterols: Plants make their own version of cholesterol, and what’s great is that when we eat enough of their version (sterols), it reduces our body’s production of cholesterol! This is why companies like Becel are marketing their products like margarine to include plant sterols. Don’t fall for the gimmick though – Becel does not contain enough plant sterols to decrease your cholesterol levels – you need it in supplement form.
3. Vitamin B5: High doses of pantethine (vitamin B5) have been shown in research to reduce bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol AND lower triglycerides. This can be a good thing to supplement in addition to diet modification for someone wants to try the natural route first.
4. Vitamin B3: Niacin (vitamin B3) has long been known to help with cholesterol levels. It can affect your liver at high doses, so it should (as with any high dose vitamin) be administered by a healthcare professional, and not by self-dosing.
5. Red Yeast Rice Extract: This is a supplement that is basically the natural version of cholesterol lowering drugs (called “statins”). Both the drug and red yeast rice extract lower the activity of an enzyme in the body that produces cholesterol. Red yeast rice extract tends to have less side effects compared to the drugs such as muscle pain/aches.