In our culture, we tend to look for pharmaceutical interventions first before exploring other options.
Often, we decide that taking a pill is simpler and easier than actually making real changes. Not only that, but we suspect that natural interventions won’t help as much as a doctor-prescribed pill.
Few places is this more prevalent than in the treatment of high cholesterol.
But would it surprise you to learn that natural interventions like a change in diet and lifestyle are actually FAR more effective than any pill your doctor could give you?
In order to explain HOW this works, we have to understand some of what is going on underneath.
High cholesterol, despite popular myth, is not usually determined by genetics and family history. Instead, it is simply a symptom of a greater imbalance.
Having high cholesterol is just one marker we look at to determine whether a person is at risk for heart disease, but it really doesn’t show us the whole picture. We have to look at the whole body as a system and when other parts of that system are out of balance along with high cholesterol, it gives us an idea of the risk that person may have of heart disease.
Some of the other symptoms that indicate possible heart issues are obesity (particularly in the stomach), low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type II diabetes or blood sugar imbalances.
We call the conglomeration of many of these issues “metabolic syndrome” and they tend to go together. We tend to first have the symptom of high cholesterol and mild blood sugar imbalances (maybe you get weak and shaky between meals sometimes) before many of the others start to develop.
The point here is that while a blood test revealing high cholesterol may be troubling, the best step is not always to begin taking a cholesterol-lowering medication.
Statins, or cholesterol-lowering medications are effective at lowering cholesterol. But since they only lower one of the symptoms of metabolic disease, they don’t actually fix the root of the problem causing the potential for heart disease. Having lower cholesterol is not the goal, having a healthy heart is the goal!
Additionally, despite lowering cholesterol modestly, statin medications actually do not have a great track record of preventing heart attacks. This makes sense when you realize that cholesterol is only a symptom! Until you address the root cause of heart disease, you cannot heal from it.
This is the big question and why you started reading this post. Lowering cholesterol naturally is a process that takes hard work and dedication. There is no magic supplement, drink, or meal that will do it for you.
Instead, since high cholesterol is a symptom of a systemic problem, the treatment for high cholesterol has to address the whole system.
Here’s what we know: diet and metabolic syndrome (including high cholesterol) are completely linked. The BEST way to address heart issues is through diet and lifestyle first.
This is why your doctor will often give you the three month test. Try to work on lifestyle and if, in three months, cholesterol is still high, they will recommend a medication.
For most people, this is completely feasible if they only know what to do! And this is where the problems start.
Many people try eating a “heart-healthy” diet of lots of whole grain cereals, low-fat dairy, and minimal red meat and find their lab numbers come back just as high. This is when they give up.
The reality is that, though well-intentioned, they are doing it wrong!
The best way to reduce cholesterol through diet is to address it in these big ways below:
High cholesterol is linked to chronic inflammation, something that occurs when we tax our digestive, detox, and immune systems on a regular basis with foods and drinks that aren’t good for us.
The best ways to reduce inflammation are to eat a whole foods diet that includes lots of plants, moderate protein from varied sources (including red meat), healthy fats and low in sugars and alcohol.
Fructose, a sugar found in most processed food is responsible for many of the issues with heart problems that modern societies face. It’s a complicated process but basically fructose creates unhealthy fats in the body which effect heart health. It also taxes the liver which contributes to the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The best way to avoid damaging your heart is to avoid added sugars. There’s no need to worry about moderate consumption of fruit, although it does contain some fructose, the key is to avoid sodas, candy, and packaged foods that contain lots of sugar.
Table sugar, being half glucose half fructose is also an issue.
Despite popular belief, fat doesn’t make you fat, nor does is raise cholesterol. Neither does consuming cholesterol containing foods. In fact, the liver creates its own cholesterol. When we consume cholesterol, it produces less, when we consume less, it produces more.
There’s no need to avoid these foods as long as they are of good quality.
Stick with fats like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and grass-fed butter and avoid fats like vegetable oil, canola oil, or safflower oil that are high in Omega 6 fats that contribute to chronic inflammation.
It’s important to keep the balance of fats in your diet. The more you eat out or eat packaged food, the more Omega 6 fat you are exposed to. If you cook at home more using the fats listed above, you’ll have a much healthier ratio.
Importantly though, we must get a certain amount of our fats from Omega 3 high sources. We get a lot of these from seafood like salmon and shrimp, which is why it is consistently recommended. If you don’t like seafood, or can’t incorporate it at least 3 times a week, you should look into a quality fish oil supplement which will help keep the balance of fats in a good place.
Good quality fiber from vegetables, some starches, and some healthy grains is very important to help reduce cholesterol. Insoluble fiber like that found in veggies helps bind to cholesterol and remove it from the body. It’s also great for the gut, so don’t skimp here! Adults should get about 25 grams of fiber a day.
Heart health is a complicated matter and supplementation is highly individualized, but there are some general supplements that can help lower high cholesterol and contribute to heart health.
A good quality fish oil like this one can help support the heart by helping to balance the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids. For vegetarians and vegans, a flax-based omega 3 oil like this one is highly important as well.
Red Yeast Rice is a supplement that has been shown to reduce high cholesterol levels (find it here) and can help support a balanced approach to treating high cholesterol. I really like this blend that also contains Red Yeast Rice (find it here).
Additionally, a fiber supplement (like this one) is great for helping bind to excess cholesterol, especially when you aren’t getting enough fiber in the diet.
Those are my best tips for lowering high cholesterol! If you need help making a meal plan that works for you and helps take care of your heart, please contact me. I’m happy to help.