Supplements for High Cholesterol
High cholesterol is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease, if you have high cholesterol, and you don’t want to put drugs into your body, why not try supplements to lower cholesterol. Supplements are natural way to lower cholesterol without a lot of side effects that you find with statin drugs. So what are the best natural supplements for high cholesterol?
High cholesterol levels
High cholesterol levels in your blood can have a major impact on your chances of having a heart attack and stroke, so it makes perfect sense to keep your cholesterol levels down at a healthy level. A healthy cholesterol level is total cholesterol ( HDL + LDL + Triglycerides) less than 200 mgs per deciliter, your LDL (Bad Cholesterol) should be less than 100 mg/ dl and your HDL (good cholesterol) should be less than 50 mg/dl.
High cholesterol diagnosis
If you have been to see your doctor and had a blood test, your cholesterol is above the normal limits so you may be prescribed statin drugs to bring it down to the 200 mg/dl levelor in this part of the world below 5. Your doctor might also give you a booklet on the best diet to use, he may also recommend that if you don’t already do so that you engage in a regular exercise program (minimum 5 days per week)
How many kinds of cholesterol are there?
There are two principal types of cholesterol both are transported by differing types of lipoproteins,LDL means low density lipoprotein at times this is referred to as “bad cholesterol” LDL can build up to a high level in the blood causing atherosclerosis or heart disease.
There are two main types of cholesterol carried by different types of lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are sometimes called “bad” cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol can build up in your arteries, causing heart disease.
High density lipoproteins or “good cholesterol” transports cholesterol from all over the body all the way back to the liver. The liver works to process the cholesterol and have it removed from the body, healthy levels of cholesterol are desirable for a healthy heart.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is naturally produced in the body, it is a type of fatty material in our blood that flows around our bodies, you can also find cholesterol in certain foods. Cholesterol is carried in the blood by Lipoproteins and there are two types one is LDL-C or low-density lipoprotein and the other is HDL-C which is high density lipoprotein.
The “good” lipoprotein is the high density one because it assists the body to keep cholesterol from building up in your artery whereas the “bad” lipoprotein is the low density one because it is the primary source for the build-up of bad cholesterol in your artery. Statin drugs are usually recommended to reduce the bad cholesterol.
The normal way to find out your total cholesterol levels is to have a blood test done, the results will be a reading of the good and bad cholesterol. There are other elements that raise the “bad” cholesterol one of which is triglyceride’s, it is a type of fat in your blood that increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Triglycerides are connected to the levels of LDL-C.
Blood lipid test
A simple blood lipid test will determine what your cholesterol levels are. A fasting blood test will measure cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your blood, the test is sometimes called a lipoprotein profile or lipoprotein analysis. The test results will give a total cholesterol reading, It will you’re your HDL, Good cholesterol, LDL Bad cholesterol and your triglyceride levels.
What are the causes of high cholesterol?
Several things can cause high cholesterol these include
- Family history
- Your diet
- Age & sex
- Underlying medical condition
- Weight issues
Statin drugs have been prescribed for many years to lower cholesterol, they do work but studies have shown several potential side effects when taken over a long period of time
What are the potential side effects of statin drugs
- A rash
- Stomach cramps
- Difficulty sleeping
- Flushing skin
- Muscle aches
According to studies, taking a daily dosage of a dietary supplement decreases Cholesterol LDL and Total cholesterol, making supplements for lowering cholesterol an interesting and convenient way to manage high levels of cholesterol.
Some studies were short term and had a small number of participants, some had a much larger group of people and were done over a longer period of time.
What should you look for in a cholesterol lowering supplement?
- Always check with your doctor before you take a supplement
- Does the supplement contain Niacin it is known to lower cholesterol?
- Does it contain plant sterols and stanols both lower cholesterol?
- Does it have a soluble fibre to excrete cholesterol?
- Coenzyme Q10 is vital for lower blood pressure and heart disease
- Some contain fish oils you may not like the aftertaste.
- Check for any side effects
High cholesterol risks
The risks of high cholesterol are varied, ranging from being overweight, eating unhealthy foods, family history, smoking and a lack of exercise. The liver produces cholesterol, but cholesterol is also found in certain foods especially foods that contain trans fats or saturated fats, eating foods like this causes your liver to produce more cholesterol than you need.
Dietary guidelines to help lower cholesterol
The Heart Association has come up with a list of dietary guidelines to help people lower their cholesterol levels, one good idea is when you are buying food always check the sugar and fat content, so here is the list of dietary guidelines to help lower cholesterol:
Make sure your daily cholesterol intake is less than 300 mg per day
Reduce your total intake of fat to less 25%-30% of the total calorie intake per day.
Limit the saturated fat intake to not more than 7% of your total daily calories.
don’t eat more than 1% of fat or less of your total daily calories.
Your remaining daily fat intake must come from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats these are available in seeds, unsalted nuts, fish (like salmon, trout, herring) as well as vegetable oils.
Certain types of foods can help to lower cholesterol especially foods that contain plant sterols added, high fibre food such as oatmeal, bran, fruits are good so eat apples and pears.
What type of supplements should you consider to lower cholesterol?
There a lot of cholesterol lowering supplements on the market that contain many different components like fibre, fenugreek, artichoke leaf extract, ginseng, garlic, guggul, niacin, soy protein, fish oil and others. The question is which supplement works to lower cholesterol and which supplement is right for you?
Let’s look at the scientific evidence around supplements for high cholesterol even though many studies have been done on supplements and cholesterol it doesn’t always mean that a supplement will work for you.
Here is my take on supplements for cholesterol
Fiber has soluble characteristics you find it in food like barley, oats, peas, citrus foods, bran it is also found in dietary supplements, soluble fiber is good for your heart.
Evidence: The Harvard Medical School conducted some research; they did a meta-analysis of almost seventy previous clinical trials on the effect soluble fiber had on lowering cholesterol levels. The analysis showed that there were definite reductions in both low density lipoprotein LDL and total cholesterol in 60 – 70% of the studies that were looked at. The interesting point was for every gram of soluble fiber that was added to the trial participants diet LDL levels reduced by approximately two points over an average period of 7 weeks.
It would be difficult to get enough fiber in your diet to lower your cholesterol significantly, according to researchers at Harvard if you were to eat 3 bowls of oatmeal each day you would only be getting about three grams of soluble fiber so it would make sense to take a fiber supplement in this case.
Summary: A high soluble fiber diet can help to lower your cholesterol but the reduction will be relatively small, a fiber supplement will increase your chances of a higher reduction in cholesterol.
Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, two types EPA & DPA, both are good for your heart, these fatty acids are found in a concentrated form in fish oil supplements produced as gel capsules.
Evidence: A lot of studies have been done on fish oil in relation to lowering cholesterol, in the majority of studies 3 grams of fish oil or more were identified in reducing triglyceride levels by 10-30%, high triglyceride levels are a risk factor for heart disease, the same studies confirmed that fish oil didn’t lower LDL or bad cholesterol.
Summary: The studies prove that fish oil does lower your triglycerides especially people with high triglyceride levels, for people in this category doctors recommend that they should consume 2-4 grams of fish oil per day, fatty fish like salmon or mackerel contain EPA & DPA are recommended at one gram per day for people with heart disease.
Garlic comes from the onion family, garlic can be used as an herb, extract, oil, or in supplement form.
Evidence: I a report in 2,000 the Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality pointed out that garlic did lower cholesterol albeit in a small way, over a 3-month period LDL and total cholesterol were reduced. Further studies haven’t been encouraging the rate of cholesterol reduction has been underwhelming.
Summary: Garlic may have a small impact on cholesterol levels in the short term.
Ginseng is a widely used herb in Asian countries, ginseng has been in use as a traditional medicine for a very long time and is now available in capsule form.
Evidence: Research into ginseng has had mixed results, Harvard Medical School did a comprehensive review of previous studies back in 2005, according to the researchers ginseng had a beneficial effect on LDL and HDL levels in one case a drop of 45% in low density lipoprotein levels and a drop of 44% in high density lipoprotein levels, however the study was small and involved only eight people.
Summary: The trial results only involved a relatively small number of people; however, the results were encouraging but we need more studies.
Niacin is produced naturally in fish, meat and dairy, it is a B vitamin and is produced in capsule form.
Evidence: On the scientific side some very large Niacin trials have been conducted, one 6 year study of 1,100 people or more found that Niacin had a significant effect on cholesterol levels including HDL, LDL and triglycerides, the most noteworthy effect was the increase in HDL (good cholesterol) levels by as much as 35%. The participants were given 2-3 grams per day of Niacin, this is a strong enough dose and may lead to side effects.
Summary: You should always consult your doctor before taking any cholesterol supplement
Soy foods contain soy protein, foods like tofu, soymilk and edamame, soy protein can also be purchased as a powder.
Evidence: Again the research will show that soy protein will have a minimal effect on cholesterol, in fact you would need to consume at least 50 gms of soy protein per day to achieve a modest drop of 3% in your cholesterol, this is twice the amount recommended by the FDA necessary to lower the risk of heart disease.
Summary: Hold onto your money, soy protein is unproven in lowering cholesterol
Guggul is available in capsule form and is a tree resin extract, it has been used as an Ayurvedic medicine and contains plant sterols.
Evidence: Muck like ginseng, guggul doesn’t show a lot of promise in lowering cholesterol in a meaningful way, a study in 2003 at the University of Pennsylvania showed that guggul had no appreciable effect on total cholesterol either HDL or triglycerides, it did cause a rise in LDL levels of around 5%.
Summary: Guggul didn’t come out of the studies in a very good light, not recommended for lowering cholesterol.
Red yeast rice
Red yeast rice contains tiny amounts of lovastatin, it is a fungus that is found on rice, lovastatin is a popular statin drug.
Evidence: When you compare red yeast extract studies to other cholesterol supplements the evidence is quite strong that red yeast rice is an efficient natural way to lower cholesterol, did you know that red yeast rice is a low dose statin? Studies have demonstrated over the years that red yeast rice can lower cholesterol by an average of 20-30 % which compares very favourably to a statin drug.
Summary: Red yeast rice has great potential in lowering cholesterol, it seems to be very potent which worries some people, be careful when purchasing red yeast extract supplements check the amount of lovastatin in it before buying because too much of any statin can cause side effects.
Fenugreek is often ground into powder from a seed, it is an old medicine used in Egypt, it is now available in capsule form.
Evidence: Going back to the nineties studies on fenugreek showed that when fenugreek seeds are taken in a high dose, they lower total cholesterol and LDL, in some cases dramatically so, for example one such case showed a reduction of 38% however the studies were limited and small. Fenugreek does have a lot of fiber (20-50%) it is thought that the large amount of fiber contributes in a large way to the cholesterol reduction.
Summary: The studies were small; we need more proof however fenugreek would seem to be as good natural alternative to lower cholesterol.
Artichoke leaf extract
Artichoke leaf extract is a dried extract of the leaf, it is also known as Cynara scolymus.
Evidence: A study in Germany back in 2002 of 150 people who had a total level reading of more than 280 points, considered by the American Heart Association to be high risk category were given the artichoke supplement for a six-week period. Results were determined and showed a reduction in LDL levels by an average of 23%, these results were encouraging however they haven’t been matched in any study since then.
Summary: We need more studies on artichoke to be done, however and even though results were mixed on previous studies artichoke would seem to be a solution to lowering cholesterol, however quickly it happens is anybody’s guess.