Cholesterol is a waxy substance found naturally in the blood. Predominantly produced in the liver, but also found in animal products, refined carbohydrates & trans fats. There are 2 types of cholesterol: LDL (low density lipoproteins) & HDL (high density lipoproteins).
HDL, known as the “good cholesterol,” picks up cholesterol from the blood and delivers it to cells that use it, or takes it back to the liver to be recycled or eliminated from the body. LDL is commonly known as the “bad” cholesterol because it transports cholesterol from the liver throughout the body, and potentially allows it to be deposited in artery walls.
If your LDL levels are too high, the excess will build up on artery walls, causing a hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). This buildup also narrows the arteries, slowing or blocking the flow of oxygen-carrying blood to the heart, which can manifest as chest pain. If blood flow to the heart is cut off because of clogged arteries, the result is damage to the heart muscle – a heart attack.
Common risk factors for high cholesterol are genetic predisposition, diet, smoking, excess alcohol intake, obesity, high blood pressure and physically inactivity.
There is some debate over whether high cholesterol is in itself a cause of heart disease, or a symptom of an inflammatory condition that is the true cause of heart disease. According to the latter theory, chronically high levels of inflammation create small lesions on the arterial walls. The body then sends LDL to heal those lesions, but it ultimately accumulates and oxidizes, causing blockages. From this perspective, the best lifestyle approach to lower cardiovascular disease risk is to lower inflammation in the body rather than LDL levels.
So which theory do we address? Hey, why not both?
If you’re looking to lower your cholesterol, here are some surefire ways to get your levels to a healthy place:
Eat more plant based foods – Animal products are where we find most of our dietary cholesterol. It’s also inflammatory. I can’t deny there are important nutrients found in meat, but we typically eat way too much. Instead of eating meat 14 meals per week, try 5 meals per week, and buy local, ethically raised, antibiotic-free, grass fed products.
Reduce sugar and flour, aka refined carbs from diet. They contribute to poor cholesterol levels by lowering HDL and also increase triglyceride levels.
Avoid trans fats (they increase LDL and reduce HDL). Trans-fats are found in many brands of margarine and in most heavily processed foods, as well as in snack foods such as chips, crackers and cookies, and in the oils used to cook fast-food french fries, doughnuts and movie popcorn. Basically any commercial oils.
Eat plenty of soluble fiber. Oats, slippery elm powder, flax seed, psyllium seeds, apple, citrus fruits, peas, carrots and ground flax seed are all good sources of soluble fiber, which has a powerful cholesterol-lowering effect by encouraging excretion.
More Omega 3 to reduce inflammation & raise HDL levels – Omega3 has been shown to lower triglyceride (blood fat) levels, minimize inflammation and clotting, and increase HDL levels. You can find it in deep sea oily fish (Salmon, Snapper, Mackerel, Anchovies, Cod, Sardines, Halibut), chia & flax seed, hemp hearts, walnuts, soybeans & grass fed animal products
Liver Support: Start each day with a half a lemon squeezed into some warm water first thing in the morning. This stimulates liver and gall bladder function, cleanses the bowel and primes digestion for the day. Eat plenty of antioxidant foods like cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens and any other dark colored fruits & vegetables.
Move your body Exercise increases HDL levels, improves circulation & exercises your heart.
Get Sunshine Sunshine converts LDL to vitamin D, which in turn lowers inflammation, which as we know can be part of the problem in the first place.
Stress-reduction Stress can prompt the body to release fat into the bloodstream, raising cholesterol levels. Try breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, hiking or whatever helps bring you peace.
CoQ10 This powerful antioxidant benefits heart health by protecting LDL from oxidation and by re-energizing the mitochondria in the heart cells, which is where energy metabolism occurs. CoQ10 can also help lower blood pressure. CoQ10 can be taken as a supplement or found in organ meats, soybeans, parsley, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, strawberries & sweet potato.
Lose the extra weight – I put this last because once you start doing the above, this will start to happen naturally
Remember, patience is key. Real, lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. Start with one change and give yourself the time to successfully integrate it into your routine permanently. Once you feel it’s taken hold, try another. Treating your life routine (diet, lifestyle etc.) like an Etch-a-sketch and changing everything at a whim is violent and destabilizing for your body’s internal environment (aka homeostasis).
Trust that once you start giving the body what it needs, it will start to dissolve that plaque buildup.
An excerpt from the wheat belly blog : “Note that recent weight loss causes an initial drop in HDL, sometimes dramatic, that “rebounds” over time. HDL can also respond slowly. A typical response, for example, for a 240 pound man who starts with an HDL value of 35 mg/dl would be a drop to 27 mg/dl while losing 40 pounds, rebounding to 40 mg/dl 3 months after weight loss has ceased, then 63 mg/dl 1-2 years later.” The takeaway? Change takes time, and it’s not always linear.
Fancy some guidance or support? Come and see me!
Together, we’ll make managing your cholesterol as easy and as effective as possible.