Have you been told that you have high cholesterol and need to use medication? Or maybe one of your family members has had a stroke or heart attack and you are worried about saturated fats?
For many years we’ve been told by the media, health professionals and food manufacturers that cholesterol and saturated fats are bad, and can cause your arteries to clog up, leading to heart disease.
But is fat the real villain?
In fact, the current research dismisses the direct link between cholesterol and saturated fat intake with cardiovascular disease (CVD).1,2 Most experts agree that although high cholesterol levels can be a part of CVD development, it is not a direct cause and there are other, more important factors to consider. Cholesterol is essential to health; it is needed for the production of steroid hormones, CoQ10 and vitamin D, and is a component of our cells, so complete dietary exclusion is not healthy.
Different fats (often described as triglycerides) and cholesterol are carried in the bloodstream by lipoproteins. You may be mostly familiar with LDL (low density lipoprotein), which carries them from the liver to the rest of the body, and HDL (high density lipoprotein), which carries them from the tissues back to the liver. We generally want to encourage higher levels of HDL in relation to LDL.
Sugar is your enemy, not fat!
When we eat a lot of carbohydrates, and especially sugar, we stimulate the production of insulin. Insulin increases natural production of triglycerides, and so LDL.3 Fructose is another type of sugar, naturally found in fruit, which can have a negative impact on our blood lipid levels.4 While moderate intake of fruit shouldn’t be a problem, the highly processed form of fructose (high fructose corn syrup), commonly added to processed foods and fizzy drinks, should be avoided at all cost.5
Liver – Key Organ for Lipid Balance
Your liver is the main organ which regulates the levels of lipids and cholesterol in the bloodstream. Therefore, liver dysfunction can lead to abnormal cholesterol metabolism. Bile, produced by the liver, is a crucial medium that helps to shunt cholesterol from the liver into the gut to be excreted. If we don’t produce enough bile, or if it’s too sticky and doesn’t flow freely, it can lead to reduced cholesterol clearance.6 This can be caused by lack of nutrients needed for bile production (e.g. choline, taurine), eating when stressed or in a rush, liver disease, gallstones, or if you’ve had your gallbladder removed.
Fats are very fragile and can easily be damaged (oxidised) by free radicals,7 toxins,8,9 excess sugar,10 or if our bodies are inflamed. Oxidised cholesterol is much more harmful,11 while triglyceride-rich LDL tends to be very small, making it more likely to cause atherosclerosis (plaque within the arteries).12,13 This scenario can be exacerbated if we are low in antioxidants. Some fats are already damaged when consumed, in particular from processed milk, vegetable and animal fats, or fried potatoes.14
Natural Support for High Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Health
- Don’t be scared of fats, as long as they are good quality, not damaged by excess heat or processing and in moderate quantities. Avoid all sources of trans- fats like margarine and baked, processed products.
- Omega 3 Fats can decrease triglycerides15 by up to 20.5% over 12 weeks at 1.24g/day,16 as well as LDL, while increasing HDL.17
- Low carbohydrate diet18 has been shown to increase HDL and reduce triglycerides.19 High intake of vegetables also provides plenty of fibre, which aids cholesterol elimination from the gut.20
- If you know your blood sugar levels are high or you’re struggling with sugar cravings, nutrients such as chromium,21 B3,22 manganese,23 magnesium,24 and alpha lipoic acid25 can be helpful.
- Include plenty of antioxidants, including berries and green leafy vegetables, to prevent damage to fats in the blood. When looking for an antioxidant supplement, ideally look for one that provides a range of antioxidants such as vitamin E,26,27 C,28 green tea,29 turmeric.30
- Support liver function and bile flow with artichoke,31 dandelion,32 and turmeric.33,34
- Support the gut with dietary and supplemental probiotics Lactobacillus plantarum can reduce LDL35 and potentially the risk of CVD.36 One study found that a daily dose of 1.2 billion L. plantarum significantly reduced total cholesterol over 12 weeks.
- Taurine promotes cholesterol excretion via the bowel.37 Animal studies confirm its ability to lower cholesterol, triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol.38
Heart Disease often takes decades to develop, so take the important steps today to support healthy heart function and cholesterol levels!