When most people think of cholesterol, they think of the waxy fat-like substance that is found in many of the foods we eat. Often feared, the truth is that cholesterol is needed by the body for a number of different things. For example it is used in the manufacture and maintenance of strong cell walls, it is critical for hormone and vitamin D production, it even is used to coat the nerve cells in the body.
Cholesterol is found in meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products. In Fact, our bodies produce cholesterol all by itself, all the cholesterol we need to live a healthy, happy life. Cholesterol is produced primarily by the liver, but small amounts of it are also manufactured by the cells in our bodies. This production of cholesterol by our bodies is the reason why some individuals, who consume a low cholesterol diet, still experience high cholesterol levels.
While elevated cholesterol levels present no signs or symptoms on their own, elevated levels have been identified as a significant risk factor in health concerns such as arteriosclerosis and heart disease. Clinically, doctors recommend that blood cholesterol levels (the amount of cholesterol circulating in our blood) be no greater than 200mg/dl, with a total level of 180mg/dl being optimal.
Our total cholesterol is broken down into 3 separate components: HDL (high density lipoproteins), LDL (low density lipoproteins) and VLDL (very low density lipoproteins). Our HDL cholesterol is known as the “good” cholesterol. It functions to remove cholesterol from the blood and blood vessel walls, where it returns it to the liver for elimination. Our LDL and VLDL cholesterol are considered to be harmful to the body, because it carries cholesterol into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, it can be deposited on the artery walls, which promotes arteriosclerosis.
Doctors are not beginning to recognize a relationship between our HDL and LDL cholesterol and many feel that this ratio may be a better indicator of our health risk than our total cholesterol numbers. The goal is to keep the ratio below 5:1; the optimum ratio is 3.5:1. Regardless of your heart risk ratio, however, individuals who have a total cholesterol level of over 275mg/dl are still considered at risk for heart disease, despite high HDL levels.
Recommendations For Wellness
Incorporate a regular exercise program into your daily routine. In addition to increasing your HDL cholesterol, thus improving your heart risk ratio, exercise helps strengthen your heart muscle, reduce your blood pressure and helps you take off a couple of pound.
Try a vegetarian diet. Historically, individuals who consumed a purely vegetarian diet had lower cholesterol levels.
Reduce or eliminate foods that contain high saturated fats such as beef, pork, cheese, butter and ice cream. If eating chicken, remove the skin to additionally reduce your fat intake.
Use olive oil instead of butter. Olive oil can help to reduce LDL cholesterol from the body.
Eating a diet high in fatty acids such as those found in fish, or supplementing with Omega 3 oil has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol and protect the heart against heart disease.
Fiber, fiber, fiber! Eating high fiber foods such as beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables have been shown to lower cholesterol levels. You can also supplement with other forms of soluble fiber such as glucomannan, psyllium hulls, apple fiber, oat bran, guar gum and acacia gum.
Guggul lipid is an herb native to India and has been used for a long time in Ayuvedic medicine to help maintain healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Niacin, vitamin B3, has been proven to lower cholesterol levels. Niacin has been prescribed in higher doses by many doctors to help lower cholesterol. Niacin, however has a number of side effects which can include: flushing of the skin (due to dilating blood vessels), itching, head aches, cramps, nausea and skin eruptions. Another form of vitamin B3, niacinamide, does not affect cholesterol levels.
Green tea has also been show to lower total cholesterol levels by decreasing LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL.
Lecithin enables fats, such as cholesterol, to be dispersed in water and removed from the body. This can help to prevent fatty buildup in the arteries
Vitamin C and vitamin E appear to protect LDL cholesterol from damage. Most cardiologists believe that only damaged LDL increases the risk of heart disease.