The craze for treating cholesterol has led to pharmaceutical companies flooding the medical world with cholesterol lowering medications. In fact, statins are now the number one selling class of drugs, with new cholesterol lowering drugs being manufactured every day.Sure the medications do lower cholesterol and it is assumed that lower cholesterol is better for your health. Is high cholesterol as much of a problem as it is made out to be and if it is why would it be elevated given that 90% is actually made in your liver not consumed? These are the million dollar questions. We are slowly starting to realise that these medications are unable to treat the underlying cause of chronic illness. They are simply a band aid treatment at best and an accelerant to disease. The real cause of chronic disease is complex and multifactorial including though not limited to what we eat (& why we eat it!!), how active we are, how we deal with stress, environmental toxicity, smoking and how connected we are to our communities.
So what is cholesterol and why is it so important?
Cholesterol is a compound, a steroid in fact, which occurs naturally in the body. It’s manufactured by the liver, and essential for many of the body’s metabolic processes. Cholesterol helps produce hormones like oestrogen, testosterone and adrenaline. It’s used in the production of vitamin D, and also in the production of bile acids, which help the body digest fat and absorb fat-soluble vitamins in the small intestine. It also is involved in the production of brain neurotransmitters so take a guess at what lowering your cholesterol with drugs has been seen to be associated with??
Cholesterol moves from your liver, through your blood, into the cells and eventually returns back to your liver. There are two types of cholesterol that perform these roles:
- Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – often known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol because it enters the bloodstream and depending on the size of the molecule (the smaller the molecule, the more damaging) they may add to the risk of atherosclerosis (the process of damaging our arteries, causing plaques to form). Native, unmodified LDL cholesterol is not atherogenic. Its job is to deliver cholesterol to the tissues for biological functions such as cell membrane repair and steroid synthesis.
- High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – often known as ‘good’ cholesterol because it helps to take the ‘bad’ cholesterol from the bloodstream and back to the liver.
Also making up your total cholesterol count are:
- Triglycerides: Elevated levels have been linked to heart disease and diabetes. Triglyceride levels have been known to rise due to eating too many grains and sugars, lack of exercise, drinking alcohol excessively, smoking and being overweight.
- Lipoprotein (a) or Lp(a): Elevated Lp(a) levels are a very strong risk factor for heart disease.
As you can see both HDL and LDL cholesterol is essential to our health. What we need to be focused on is when the good lipoproteins have turned bad! We can expect that the cholesterol in an inflamed unhealthy patient is more likely to be damaged (along with other compounds). It is damaged cholesterol that causes the problems. When LDL cholesterol particles are damaged by oxidative stress, high levels of glucose (glycation) or inflammation they become stickier and contribute to the atherosclerotic plaque build-up we see in vascular disease. Lowering your cholesterol with drugs does not turn bad cholesterol good and make it any less likely to cause a plaque. HDL (good cholesterol) is also at risk of glycation and oxidation, which means it’s unable to perform the regular duties of returning the cholesterol back to the liver. Instead it becomes pro-oxidant and pro-inflammatory instead of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant! Now if you’re still with me, these hidden dangers is why serum pathology results provide no guidance as to the function and quality of our lipoproteins! Therefore Naturopathic treatment and clinical assessment needs to be based on whether the patient is at high risk of cardiovascular disease or metabolic syndrome. This is assessed by looking at the patients inflammation, oxidative stress, and insulin resistance as well as their diet, lifestyle, weight, exercise regime and environmental toxicity.
What is my Naturopathic treatment for high cholesterol?
- Find the root cause as to why your cholesterol is high. Remember cholesterol is a passenger and something else is driving it up.
- Promote lipoprotein health and functionality via diet and supplementation
- Reduce Inflammation- Inflammation is emerging as the most important risk factor for high cholesterol. High cholesterol may be the bodies way of telling us there is underlying inflammation-infection. Infection can stem from the GUT (such as dysbiosis and leaky gut), from the blood as well as chronic oral gum infection.
- Reduce oxidative stress.
- Further investigation as to other clinical drivers such as food intolerances, low thyroid function, low testosterone, low vitamin D and low B12 status.
- Diet and lifestyle changes- eat a diet with a low glycemic load, high in fiber and phytonutrients and omega-3 rich. The diet should mainly be plant based with plenty of good quality protein such as beans, nuts, seeds and lean organic or grass fed animal protein.
- Exercise- get some!
- Weight loss- Obesity is a risk factor for high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease
- Sleep- is essential for optimum health as the body uses this time to heal itself. 7-8 hours per night from 10pm-6am were found to be the most beneficial.
- Stress management- stress causes inflammation and oxidative stress. Better stress management skills will improve how your body responds to stress which in turn reduces inflammation and oxidation.
- Good quality fish oil contains high quantities of Omega-3. Fish oil has been found to reduce inflammation, safely lower triglyceride levels and increase LDL size (making LDL cholesterol healthier and safer). A quick test to know your fish oil is of good quality is to cut open a capsule and taste and smell the liquid. If the oil has a fishy taste or smell, it’s likely the oil is rancid and will have no health benefits within the body.
- Co enzyme Q10- for its antioxidant properties. Co Q10 is essential for any patients that are already taking statin medication as statins inhibit the production of this protective enzyme.
- Vitamin E-contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are specific to cardiovascular health.
- Vitamin D- vitamin D deficiency is common in people with high cholesterol. Vitamin D is also essential for gut health, especially important for anyone with leaky GUT syndrome.
- Magnesium, glycine and taurine- essential for cardiovascular health.
- Antioxidants such as Resveratrol or green tea to help reduce oxidative stress.
- Garlic (allium sativum)– is used for the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis and other risk factors of cardiovascular disease.
- Globe Artichoke (Cynara Scolymus)– has been found to reduce plasma cholesterol and protect the liver.
NOTE: The quality of your supplements is really important when trying to reduce your high cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease.