Every year, millions of Americans are diagnosed with high cholesterol and are issued the standard ultimatum: lower your levels by changing your diet and lifestyle over the next six months, OR ELSE! Okay, maybe it’s not quite that dramatic. Your healthcare provider is essentially saying that you have six months to do the work yourself, before being prescribed a cholesterol-lowering medication. So, where do you start? What should you eat? What changes should you make? And what’s the big deal about cholesterol-lowering drugs? Do you really need to make the changes when there’s a drug that can do the work for you?
These days, it seems like everyone is taking a cholesterol-lowering medication. These drugs, commonly known as statins, are consistently among the most-prescribed medications in the U.S. While statins are effective at lowering total cholesterol, questions remain as to their effects on long-term health. Many healthcare providers are beginning to wonder if statins should be used in patients with only mild to moderate risk.
The bottom line is that most medications come with side effects, and statins are no exception. Headache and GI distress are commonly reported, along with decreased energy. The biggest concern with this class of drugs is reduced liver function. Patients have to be closely monitored and have their liver enzymes checked periodically.
Now ask yourself, what are the side effects of lifestyle modification? Increased energy? Better immune function? Weight loss? Oh, and let’s not forget better cholesterol levels! It’s important for patients to look at their six month ultimatum as an opportunity to live a longer and better life.
Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. According to the latest American Heart Association guidelines, all healthy adults ages 18-65 should be getting at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity five days a week. Walking, jogging, swimming and cycling are just a few examples of healthy cardiovascular activity. Including such activities in your daily routine will give you more energy and better overall health!
Freshen Up Your Diet
When it comes to a cholesterol-friendly diet, most people automatically think of switching to low-fat and fat-free foods. While it’s true that all trans fats and many saturated fats should be reduced or eliminated, it’s important to remember that not all fats are bad. In fact, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids are actually beneficial, and should be included in your diet for optimal heart health. Foods such as olive oil and fresh fish are excellent sources of omega-3, which can also be taken as a dietarysupplement.
Adding soluble fiber to your diet is another way to reduce cholesterol naturally, by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines. Ten grams or more of soluble fiber a day decreases your total and LDL cholesterol. A serving of whole-grain oatmeal provides about six grams of soluble fiber. Adding fresh fruit increases the fiber content even more, while adding antioxidants. Always make sure breads and cereals are made with whole grains for maximum heart health. In general, less-processed foods are the most heart healthy.
Several supplements are beneficial for those looking to reduce cholesterol levels. Pharmacist Dave Mason recommends a high-quality niacin supplement to his patients. “Niacin has been used to raise HDL (good) cholesterol for decades, and it’s very effective. Traditionally, niacin supplements can cause flushing, upset stomach, and dizziness. Higher quality forms of niacin, such as inositol hexanicotinate, generally don’t have those unpleasant effects,” notes Mason. Niacin is also found in many foods, including dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, nuts and eggs.
He also recommends Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and a plant sterol supplement specifically for cholesterol patients. “Studies have shown that CoQ10’s antioxidant properties help prevent the oxidization of LDL (bad) cholesterol.” While CoQ10 is a naturally occurring coenzyme, as we age, production of CoQ10 decreases. Plant sterols have been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol by up to 10 percent. Some orange juice and yogurt products are actually fortified with plant sterols for heart health.
Nutritional supplements containing plant sterols can be highly effective in improving cholesterol levels. “We’ve seen a number of patients significantly reduce their LDL cholesterol and raise their HDL on these supplements, along with an omega-3,” notes Mason.
Lifestyle modification is the ideal way to reduce cholesterol levels and improve heart health. Making these important changes will also help you to lead a healthier life in general, giving more energy and reducing the likelihood of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Increasing your activity level, improving your diet, and adding appropriate supplements can help you get out of the cholesterol red zone and live a longer, healthier life!
For more information about natural ways to lower cholesterol, talk to your healthcare provider.
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and a Certified Pharmacy Technician at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions. She and her family live in Edmond.