Some Basic Cholesterol Information

We have all been inundated with information on the importance of low cholesterol, but how much does the average person really know about it and the herbs/medications that affect it?

First of all, there is more than one type of cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is the kind we need to keep low, as it can lead to clogged arteries, heart attacks and strokes. HDL is the “good” cholesterol. A higher amount of HDL is a good thing.

There are also two sources of cholesterol. One is from the foods we eat and the other is from our liver, which manufactures cholesterol. Some cholesterol is necessary in order to digest fats.

Unfortunately, some of us produce more than others, which can lead to problems. Diet is another factor in high cholesterol; eating foods that contain a lot of cholesterol can be problematic.

What You Can Do

Eating a diet low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol is a good start. If your cholesterol is not extremely high, a change of diet may prevent it from getting high enough to require medication.

Some food choices are better than others, however. Salmon, halibut and lake trout (among others) contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may raise your HDL cholesterol level. Flax seeds also contain omega-3s.

Dietary fiber may help lower cholesterol. It is theorized that it prevents some of the digestive enzymes from being absorbed, thus letting the cholesterol pass through the body. Soluble fiber is considered the best for this purpose, but both soluble and insoluble will help.

Once upon a time, garlic was thought to reduce cholesterol levels, but that is some doubt. Recent studies have been mixed.

Oats, on the other hand, does. Perhaps it is the fiber content, or perhaps some other constituent, but eating oats on a regular basis can lower LDL cholesterol up to 30 points.

When Diet Isn’t Enough

We are fortunate to have several options for dealing with high cholesterol when dietary changes can no longer keep the LDL down. I want to be very clear here; it is imperative that you speak with your doctor about how you want to address this issue. There are a few natural preparations that may help, but you may need something stronger.

One natural product that may lower cholesterol is red yeast rice. There is quite a bit of debate about whether it should be classified as a supplement or drug, in part because it contains a chemical similar to an anti-cholesterol medication.

Red yeast rice has some serious interactions. It may damage the liver or kidneys and when paired with other herbs or medications, it becomes more likely. Red yeast rice should not be taken at the same time as many prescription cholesterol medications. Do not take goldenseal if you are taking red yeast rice or any form of statin, as muscle and kidney damage could result.

Flax seed, evening primrose oil and borage oil may also help lower LDL cholesterol. Flax contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, while borage and evening primrose oil contain omega-6. Flax seeds are very hard and should be ground before use. Fish oil supplements can be beneficial for those who don’t like to eat fish. As with red yeast rice, check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting any of these supplements. Some medications and conditions may interact with these herbs.

Imelda Despres

Imelda Despres is our writer for the Baby, Health and Beauty categories. She was a nutritionist for 5 years before joining the team. When she's not researching, she enjoys weekend getaways with her family at the lake.

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