Cholesterol is a fat like substance called a sterol. It is hard and waxy and melts at 149ºC (300ºF). Our body manufactures approximately one gram of cholesterol per day; this is mainly in the liver, but also occurs in the intestines, adrenal glands, ovaries and testes. In fact, every cell of our body has the capacity to manufacture cholesterol if needed. We also obtain cholesterol in our diet by eating animal foods such as eggs, meat and dairy products. However, 80% of the cholesterol in our body is manufactured in the liver. Our body makes cholesterol out of a molecule called acetyl CoA; this is derived from the breakdown of sugars, fats and protein. Basically any calories in excess of our body’s needs can be turned into cholesterol.
Cholesterol is not very soluble in water; therefore it must be carried around our bloodstream in various transport molecules. Certain proteins wrap around the cholesterol molecules to form what are called lipoproteins.
Two common forms of lipoproteins are Low Density Lipoprotein and High Density Lipoprotein.
- Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) – This is the so called “bad” cholesterol. It is the major transporter of cholesterol and triglycerides, taking them from the liver to other parts of the body, where they can be used for various functions.
- High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) – This is the so called “good” cholesterol. It is high in protein, which makes it denser and lower in cholesterol. This lipoprotein takes cholesterol from various parts of the body to the liver, where it can be excreted in bile. You want your HDL to be as high as possible.
- Triglycerides – These are a storage form of fat, made up of three fatty acids attached to a glycerol molecule. High triglyceride levels in the blood make it thick and sticky; they are a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Excess carbohydrate, alcohol and sugar in our diet are converted into triglycerides in the liver.
What causes high cholesterol?
The body makes much of its cholesterol and triglycerides out of carbohydrate in our diet. Therefore, if we eat too much sugar, starch and carbohydrate rich foods, we will have a lot of saturated fat in our body, which can then be used to make cholesterol. Eating trans fatty acids raises our levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol and lowers levels of HDL “good” cholesterol. Trans fatty acids are present in some margarines and foods that contain vegetable oil, such as fried foods, biscuits, crackers and donuts.
Not having enough fiber in your diet can leave you with high cholesterol levels; this is because your body excretes cholesterol into bile, which is secreted into your intestines. From there, the fiber you eat binds to cholesterol in your gut and you excrete it in bowel movements.
Other causes of elevated cholesterol include:
- Syndrome X – Also known as insulin resistance, this metabolic disorder is a forerunner to type 2 diabetes. People with syndrome X carry excess fat over their abdominal area, have high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and a fasting blood sugar level above 99mg/dL.
- Genetic factors – A condition called familial hypercholesterolemia occurs in approximately 1 in 500 people and causes an approximate doubling of LDL cholesterol. People with this genetic condition can have a total cholesterol level of 13 or higher.
- Hypothyroidism – An under active thyroid gland can cause an elevation in cholesterol.
- Stress – This can increase your cholesterol level for several reasons. The stress hormone cortisol is made from cholesterol, therefore your body will manufacture more cholesterol when you are under stress. Cortisol also promotes fat deposition in the abdominal area, which encourages the development of syndrome X.
- Lack of exercise – Vigorous aerobic exercise is an excellent way to raise HDL “good” cholesterol and lower LDL “bad” cholesterol. People who exercise regularly are less susceptible to syndrome X and weight gain.
- Cigarette smoking – This is a well known risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Smoking increases LDL cholesterol and blood pressure.
Orthodox medical treatment
There are several types of cholesterol lowering drugs, including:
- Statins – Examples include Lipitor, Zocor, Pravachol and Lescol. Statins inhibit the enzyme in the liver responsible for cholesterol manufacture. They are the most commonly prescribed class of cholesterol lowering drugs. Statins deplete your body of co enzyme Q10, an important antioxidant for the heart. These drugs may have side effects including liver inflammation, muscle soreness, nerve damage, heart failure, memory problems, depression, reduced libido and increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Bile acid sequestrants – Examples include Questran Lite and Colestid Granules. These drugs bind with cholesterol containing bile acids in the intestines, and are then removed in bowel motions. Bile acid sequestrants can inhibit your absorption of other medication and also the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D and K.
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors – Ezetrol is currently the only drug in this category. This drug inhibits the intestinal absorption of cholesterol from bile and the diet. Ezetrol can reduce LDL cholesterol by 18 to 20%; it is typically given with a statin.
- Nicotinic acid agents – Examples include niacin and nicotinic acid. These are different forms of vitamin B3. When given in very high doses, vitamin B3 can reduce LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Unfortunately, it usually causes hot flushes because it dilates blood vessels.
- Fibrates – Examples include Lopid, Gemfibrozil, Jezil and Lipidil. Fibrates lower cholesterol; however, they can cause digestive discomfort and may increase the risk of gallstones.
Recommendations for reducing cholesterol
Your body does need some cholesterol; it performs many vital functions in your body. An ideal, healthy cholesterol level is between 183 and 214 mg/dL (4.7 and 5.5mmol/L). Research has shown that mortality is lower in people with total cholesterol below 214 mg/dL (4.7mmol/L).
Here are our top tips for achieving a healthy cholesterol level:
- Eat less carbohydrate – Carbohydrate rich foods such as sugar, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, breakfast cereals and foods made of flour promote high insulin levels. Insulin signals your liver to manufacture more cholesterol and triglycerides. High insulin levels also promote the development of syndrome X and weight gain.
- Eat more fiber – Having plenty of fiber in your diet ensures that excess cholesterol in your intestines is excreted in bowel movements, rather than being reabsorbed into your body. Good sources of fiber include vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds. Beware of sugar filled breakfast cereals and don’t eat too much bread. The carbohydrate in these foods negates the benefits of the fiber.
- Eat the right fats – Omega 3 fats have numerous heart saving benefits, including the reduction of triglycerides and an increase in HDL “good” cholesterol. They are found in oily fish (eg. sardines, salmon, mackerel, herrings) and also in flax seeds, walnuts and green leafy vegetables. It is very important to avoid excess omega 6 fats, as they can promote free radical damage and inflammation in your body. Omega 6 fats are found in margarine and most vegetable oil (corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean and cottonseed). Olive oil is high in beneficial monounsaturated fat and should be included in your diet.
- Avoid trans fatty acids – These are formed when vegetable oil is processed in a way that changes the structure of the fatty acids. Trans fats lower your HDL cholesterol and raise your LDL cholesterol. Check food labels and avoid foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or vegetable fat.
- Include more antioxidants in your diet – Antioxidants protect the cholesterol in your body from becoming oxidized. It is only oxidized cholesterol that causes damage to your artery walls and forms plaques. Antioxidants also prevent free radical damage to your artery walls, which can initiate plaque development. Good sources of antioxidants include vegetables, fruit, dark chocolate, red wine, raw nuts and seeds and vitamin C. Raw vegetable juices are an excellent source of antioxidants and should be consumed regularly.
- Certain herbs and spices can help – Green tea is a potent source of antioxidants and it has been shown to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart attacks. Other beneficial herbs you can include in your diet are garlic, ginger and turmeric.
- Improve your liver function – Since your liver manufactures 80% of the cholesterol in your body, the healthier it is, the better your cholesterol level should be. If you have a fatty liver or raised liver enzymes, your liver will usually make greater amounts of triglycerides and LDL “bad” cholesterol. Your liver is the main fat burning organ in your body, if you have a fatty liver your liver is storing fat, not burning fat. Following The Liver Cleansing Diet and taking a liver tonic can greatly improve the health of your liver.
- Keep your homocysteine low – Homocysteine is an amino acid that forms in our body as a result of breakdown of dietary protein. Elevated blood homocysteine levels are associated with heart disease. Folic acid, vitamin B12 and B6 all work together to keep homocysteine low by helping to convert it into the amino acid methionine. Good sources of folic acid are green leafy vegetables. Vitamin B6 is found in salmon, bananas, chicken, potatoes and hazelnuts. Vitamin B12 is found in salmon, mussels, crab, beef, chicken and eggs. If your homocysteine level is high you may need a supplement containing these vitamins.
- Strengthen your immune system – This reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering the inflammation in your body. People with immune disorders such as allergies, autoimmune disease and infections have a lot of inflammation and free radical damage occurring in their body. This can cause damage to artery walls, which promotes the development of fatty plaques.
- Keep stress at bay – There are several ways to achieve this, such as regular exercise, spending more time with loved ones, meditation and taking supplemental magnesium.
- “Cholesterol – The Real Truth”. This book provides you with detailed information on what to do to achieve a healthy cholesterol level and reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
- “I Can’t Lose Weight!…And I Don’t Know Why”. This book contains a low carbohydrate eating plan that is effective for not only weight loss, but also lowering blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- See my book called “Magnesium – The Miracle Mineral”. This book discusses Magnesium as being essential for hundreds of chemical reactions that take place in the body every second, with recent findings also indicating that it offers a wide range of important health-promoting benefits. See page 9 for these benefits.
Recommended supplements for cholesterol
- Fish Oil
Take 1 to 2 capsules with each meal. Omega 3 fats help to reduce triglycerides and increase HDL “good” cholesterol. They also help to thin the blood and reduce the risk of blood clots.
- Co-Enzyme Q10
Take 2 capsules daily. Co enzyme Q10 is necessary for healthy heart function. It helps to improve energy and acts as an antioxidant in the body. Most cholesterol lowering drugs deplete the body of this vital nutrient.
- Livatone Plus Powder or Capsules
Take 1 teaspoon twice daily or 2 capsules twice daily. Begin with half this dose for the first week. Improving the health of the liver will increase the production of “good” cholesterol. The liver tonic should contain St Mary’s thistle, globe artichoke, dandelion root and psyllium. Psyllium is essential in helping to lower cholesterol.
- Magnesium Tablets or Powder
Take 2 tablets twice daily or one teaspoon daily. Magnesium helps to lower elevated blood pressure and it reduces the impact of stress on your body. Magnesium also helps to improve insulin resistance.
Take 1 or 2 capsules twice daily with meals. Berberine helps to lower elevated insulin, thus addresses insulin resistance. It also inhibits the enzyme called PCSK9, which leads to more LDL being removed from the bloodstream.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.