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Q. My GP says my cholesterol levels are too high and has advised me to take statins. I’ve read about the side effects of these drugs and would prefer to take a natural approach. What alternatives are there?
A. Understanding about high cholesterol may help you to see why your GP is concerned. Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance found in all cells in the body that is absolutely essential to life. Without it our bodies could not function. We need it to make hormones, vitamin D and substances that aid the digestion. Furthermore it plays an essential role in your brain, where it is critical for synapse formation allowing you to think, learn new things and form memories. However, high levels of cholesterol have been associated with heart disease. Lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout the body and there are two types. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) often referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’ are responsible for carrying cholesterol to the artery wall, whereas high-density lipoproteins (HDL) commonly known as ‘good cholesterol’ help to return cholesterol to the liver, to be excreted from the body.
Excessive levels of LDL cholesterol can build up on artery walls, contributing to thickening and blockage of the arteries. It is therefore important to consider the ratio of HDL to LDL. A high level of HDL and a low level of LDL are desirable. Trying to maintain healthy levels is important in order to reduce your risk of heart disease.
It is not always necessary to resort to drugs to control your cholesterol levels, changes to diet and lifestyle can have significant beneficial effects. Following a Mediterranean style diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes and fish should help. Incorporate some key foods that are known to normalise blood lipid levels such as oats and beans. These help to lower and excrete cholesterol from the body. Limit your consumption of sugar and processed foods as this can help to lower bad LDL cholesterol. Increase your intake of healthy fats like fish oil and flax oil and exercise at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes to help lower cholesterol.
Red yeast rice has been found to inhibit the production of cholesterol in the body and plant sterols are helpful too as they compete with cholesterol for absorption in the gut. Add in some Co-enzyme Q10, as this may be depleted when the body reduces cholesterol, leading to fatigue and joint pain.