So you got back the results of a blood test from your doctor and the cholesterol numbers are bad. Maybe your total cholesterol (TC) is over 200, LDL-C is over 120 and the ratio of TC to HDL-C is over 4.6. Time to panic? Maybe.
Many people with these numbers will develop cardiovascular disease. Yet others will never show any sign of plaque formation in their arteries. The reason? Lifestyle and genetics both play a role in the development of heart disease.
And maybe there is no problem in your arteries now, but keep up the poor cholesterol numbers, and someday disease may develop since age is a risk factor. So for most people, it makes sense to lower blood cholesterol levels back to recommended ranges. Public guidelines are TC under 200 mg/dL, LDL-C under 100 mg/dL, HDL-C over 39 mg/dL, TC/HDL under 4.6 and triglycerides (TG) under 150 mg/dL.
Unfortunately, getting back within public guidelines will not be enough for everybody; many will still suffer from heart attacks and strokes.
A good test to figure-out whether your cholesterol numbers are low enough is a yearly carotid ultrasound. In this non-invasive painless procedure, ultrasound paddles are massaged over the carotid neck arteries and pictures are created showing the artery health in detail. The test is completely safe and is radiation-free. The health of the carotids reflects the health of the entire cardiovascular system. One caveat, make sure the images are evaluated by an experienced physician practitioner because it takes a trained eye to interpret the pictures properly.
Another test that shows your risk towards heart disease is a blood panel that shows the amount and size of LDL particles. Research suggests that larger and fewer LDL particles reduce the risk of plaque forming in arteries. Both Liposcience and Labcorp can check what’s called the NMR particle size for cholesterol.
Four Steps Toward Lower Cholesterol
Diet contributes not only to the overall level of blood cholesterol, but also to the composition of the cholesterol. Animal products are the sole source of dietary cholesterol. Cutting down on fatty dairy and meat products will lower dietary cholesterol. But that alone does not prevent heart disease. In the United States especially, pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome are major risk factors for heart disease. These two risk factors often lead to a high number of small-sized LDL-C particles.
Two tests for metabolic syndrome are the glucose-insulin challenge and the hemoglobin A1c.
Pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome are caused primarily from habitually eating high glycemic foods that spike blood sugar and insulin levels. These foods include not only candies, desserts, and sugary soft drinks, but also things made from refined flour, certain root vegetables like potatoes, sweet fruits, and fruit juice. A serving now and then of potatoes or sweet fruit is generally O.K., just an over reliance on them.
A healthy diet for the heart includes plenty of whole grains, beans, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and low-sugar fruits like berries. Healthy animal protein sources, a smaller part of total caloric intake, includes fish like wild salmon (larger oceanic fish may contain high levels of mercury toxin) and lean meats like chicken breast and buffalo. Dairy fats are minimized.
The American Heart Association recommends that trans-fats, like solid vegetable shortening, should be avoided completely. Research also suggests that heat-processed mono-unsaturated vegetable oils like corn, canola, soybean, and safflower also contribute to plaque formation. The best oils are extra virgin olive oil, used unheated or at low heats, and cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil in higher heat cooking.
2. Aerobic And Resistance Exercise
An exercise routine comprised of aerobic and resistance exercise not only makes the body more fit, but also may increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels. A good schedule would be three days a week or more of vigorous walking for thirty minutes, and perhaps on off days, fifteen minutes or more of weight training or other resistance exercise.
Getting enough sleep each night not only makes the body feel better, it’s also healthy for the heart. It’s recommended people sleep seven to eight hours a night. Loud snoring and snorting at night may be signs of a sleep-disruptive breathing issue that has been linked to heart disease, but can be resolved with a visit to a sleep clinic.
Scientific studies show three supplements contribute to healthy cholesterol levels: oat beta-glucan to lower LDL-C, red yeast rice to lower LDL-C and omega-3 fatty acids (EPA/DHA) to lower triglycerides.
Oat beta-glucan, occurs naturally in oatmeal and oat bran, but is usually bound up in the tough oat plant cells and is largely unavailable to the body. A product called Nutrim® takes oat bran and with mechanical processing opens the oat plant cells, making the beta-glucan available. Decades of research show oat beta-glucan lowers cholesterol and research on Nutrim® shows it works better than simple oat bran. Nutrim® was developed by the USDA and qualifies for the FDA heart health claim. As a natural oat phytonutrient, it has no side effects. More information about Nutrim® can be found at theauthor’s website.
Red Yeast Rice
Used in traditional Chinese medicine, red yeast rice is made my fermenting rice with a special strain of yeast. The fermentation creates a medicinal substance called monacolin K, also called lovastatin, the active consituent of the pharmaceutical Mevacor. The label on Mevacor includes warnings for pregnant mothers and people suffering from liver disease. Because different brands of red yeast rice vary in their chemical profiles, no definitive safety information is available. The suggested dose is 1,200 to 2,400 milligrams daily.
A common source for EPA/DHA is fish oil. Most fish oils come from oceanic fish so environmental contaminants, like mercury, can pose a problem. In general, the cleanest fish oil comes from smaller fish harvested in cold ocean environments. The typical recommended dose is 2,000 to 4,000 milligrams fish oil daily.
Seek Professional Medical Advice
Any time you start on a new health plan, it makes sense to meet with your doctor and discuss your particular situation. The suggestions in this article may help you avoid having to take prescription drugs for cholesterol. Or you may need to start with prescription drugs initially, but later be able to move to an all-natural routine. Get started today living a heart-healthy lifestyle!
Photo Credit: Flickr/Navin75