High Cholesterol runs in my family so I am always (read: try to) watching what I eat. I also get tested every year or so, to see how I am doing. The last test I had showed a 8 point increase over 2 years, still in the healthy range, however, near the top of where my levels should be for my age/gender. Basically I take it seriously but not so seriously that I don’t enjoy what I eat. I’ve been cut open enough times to understand that if it can be avoided it should! If you don’t believe me, please take my word for it. With that in mind you can imagine my surprise when my brother-in-law (visiting from out of state) announced that his Cholesterol level was around …700! What can I say, it surprised me he had a pulse!!
That is when I decided to write this article, not as an expert (I am not), but from my practical experience. I do not take medication and will resist taking any for as long as possible. I am not adverse to medication but do believe less is better. So I focus on natural ways to lower cholesterol, my doctor may not agree with me and wish he could get the commission from the prescription, but I have at the least maintained my levels through personal effort. I also realize every one’s body chemistry if different and you should listen to your doctor and yourself, not me. You need to understand the differences between the good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol, I leave that up to you. But if you find a few useful tips here, my effort is not wasted.
It is important to note that cholesterol is actually necessary for several very critical functions in the body. However, excess cholesterol in the blood stream can be deposited in arteries and can cause plaque formation as well as harden arteries. Heart disease, heart attack and stroke may then result.
How do you reduce your Cholesterol naturally? Basically you have to alter your lifestyle and diet.
Is it easy? Not always.
First of all, you need to maintain a healthy body weight. While thin people can have unhealthy levels of cholesterol being overweight usually indicates an unhealthy lifestyle (to much food not enough activity). Being overweight raises your LDL (bad) levels and lowers your HDL (good) levels. That is why the first step to lowering your cholesterol is to loose weight. Often this only requires a change in the foods you ingest. The side benefit of this is you will feel better and have more energy!
There it is, Step One: Get to and Maintain a Healthy Weight.
Weight loss in general requires one thing, burning more calories then you consume. The fastest way to lose weight is to reduce your calories and increase your level of exercise. What is interesting about this process is the more you exercise the less hungry you will be…sound ridiculous but unless you are starving yourself it’s true! Junk food can be quiet addictive (and bad for your cholesterol levels) so you may not feel this is true immediately, but stick with it and you will.
We need exercise for a lot of reasons, mostly we humans were not meant to be sedentary. Like it or not you need to move around and get some exercise! Exercise expends energy and pushes toxins out of your body, but it also forces your body to create more HDL (good) and convert/burn some of that bad cholesterol (LDL) into energy. Imagine that. As a Martial Artist, exercise also lubricates your joints, improves your flexibility and heightens your awareness…sparring anyone?
The rule of thumb is a minimum of moderate exercise of about 30 minutes three to five times per week. This will improve not only your cholesterol levels but will improve your heart health. So many benefits!
Here is a no-brainer, stop smoking. Smoking is stupid so you should stop. Smoking is bad for you, and stupid, so you should stop. Smoking increases LDL (bad) cholesterol, and it is stupid, so you should stop. If you are still smoking, you are stupid…and, why are your reading this?!?
You are now exercising (or thinking about it) so how should you change your diet?
Obviously our diet is important to any aspect of our health. To coin an old programming saying: Garbage In, Garbage Out. However that doesn’t accurately depict the human body, probably more accurate would be: Garbage In, Garbage Stays… If we consume a lot of cholesterol then our bodies are going to retain a lot of cholesterol. Therefore it is critical to couple diet management with exercise.
There are different dietary factors affecting your body’s cholesterol stores:
Soluble Fiber binds to cholesterol and removes it from your body, making it a great way to naturally lower your cholesterol. Soluble fiber is found in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Basically eating natural foods is better…duh!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids can also lower cholesterol levels, these can be found in flax seeds and flax seed oil as well as cold fish such as tuna, sardines, salmon, herring, and mackerel. An interesting note about flax seed oil, it is one of the few oils that does not change it’s molecular make up when heated! Many oils change when heated thereby reducing or eliminating their beneficial properties. Olive Oil is another great oil which not only is thought to reduce cholesterol but has antioxidant properties as well.
In case you didn’t get the memo: Saturated and trans fats are bad for you, as they can raise your total cholesterol. You can determine if a product has trans fats by reading the label. Most will identify trans fat in the percentage area, however, even if they say 0%, if they contain partially hydrogenated anything, they contain trans fat! Basically most processed food contains trans fat, store bought cookies/cakes/etc. Again natural and home made is better! Saturated fats are found in meats and some oils, such as red meats, processed meats and poultry skin.
If you have a cholesterol problem you should also avoid dairy products, fried foods and surprising to most, some seafood, especially shell fish.
Well that pretty much seems to rule out most available foods that we tend to enjoy…! Not true, unless you exist on Devil Dogs and Yoohoo!
Basically I go back to my earlier comment, eat (and cook with) more natural foods. Don’t buy a box of cookies, make them from scratch. I actually think it is cheaper to do that now given rising costs. Cut the recipe’s sugar in half, don’t use margarine, substitute apple sauce for butter/margarine. I am sure you can find many more tips via google.
To summarize the basics:
- Get up and moving…exercise!
- Avoid processed foods
- Avoid junk foods
- Avoid/reduce dairy products
- Avoid all trans fats
- Eat more natural foods
Easy right? It actually is, the hard part is the change in behavior and mind-set that it requires. Like all change it takes some work and effort. However, I have never heard of denial lowering any one’s cholesterol…
Some people will go to extremes and become vegetarians (not that there is anything wrong with that!) personally I like meat to much for that and it really isn’t necessary. There are also some herbs (garlic, green tea, psyllium, red yeast rice) that can also help in lowering your cholesterol, but there is no magic potion or secret trick regardless of what you may read online. Beware of snake oil salesmen/women .
Any gains you will make in lowering your cholesterol by changing your diet are normally made within 3-6 months. Aside from that you need to listen to your doctor and if necessary take a prescription drug to aid in your fight to lower your cholesterol. Regardless there is no substitute for a healthy lifestyle and it is never to late to change your ways and start living a healthy life style.