Author: Leo Akin
Statins are the most commonly prescribed drugs for lowering high blood cholesterol. Unfortunately, these drugs are overprescribed and are responsible for a number of serious side effects. While the most common side effect of statins is muscle pain, they can also cause liver damage, nerve damage, sexual dysfunction, memory loss and an increased risk of diabetes. Although statin manufacturers keep insisting these side effects are rare, they are in fact severe and occur frequently. How severe and how frequent? Severe and frequent enough to convince the FDA to mandate that manufacturers state these risks on the labels of statin drugs.
Fortunately, there are other ways to lower your cholesterol without resorting to statins. These alternative methods are safer, more affordable and can keep your blood cholesterol low enough to save you from a lifetime of prescription statins. Making certain dietary and lifestyle changes as well as taking certain natural supplements can help prevent and treat hypercholesterolemia. Discussed below are the 7 proven steps to take to keep your cholesterol within healthy limits.
Say No to Bad Fats
Contrary to what most people believe dietary cholesterol has very little effect on blood cholesterol level. In fact, fats and carbohydrates raise blood cholesterol levels a lot more than the cholesterol present in foods. As much as possible, avoid animal fats. Animal fats include the fats found in the desirable marbling of meat and the skin of poultry meat as well as dairy. If you must eat meat, choose lean cuts that are known to contain less than 20% fat. Yet another bad fat to avoid is trans fats. These are present in partially hydrogenated oils used in the preparation of margarine as well as fried and baked foods. Trans fats have been proven to raise the level of LDL or “bad” cholesterol while lowering HDL or “good” cholesterol. As a rule of thumb, remove processed foods from your diet to cut down on bad fats.
Choose Complex Carbs
In one landmark study, researchers demonstrated that simple carbohydrates dramatically raised blood cholesterol level more than complex carbs and also increased the risk of atherosclerosis by 30%. Unlike simple carbohydrates, complex carbs are broken down slowly and, therefore, do not release all their store of sugar at once. This helps avoid spiking blood glucose levels and prevent insulin resistance. Simple carbs, such as the added sugars found in soda drinks and processed foods, produce an immediate release of excess sugar. To reduce blood sugar levels, the body converts excess sugar into glycogen and triglycerides. Unfortunately, triglycerides are broken down to make VLDL and LDL cholesterol. The increased production of these “bad” cholesterol molecules cause hypercholesterolemia and raise the risk of atherosclerosis. Therefore, avoid simple carbohydrates especially the high-caloric sweeteners used in refined and processed food products. Replace these with complex carb foods such as grains and fibrous fruits.
Eat More Plant Foods
Generally, plants contain smaller amounts of fats than animals. Therefore, consuming plant foods is an excellent way of lowering your dietary fat consumption and blood cholesterol level. In addition, plants are rich in dietary fiber and fiber can reduce the absorption of dietary fat and cholesterol. Plant fiber usually binds to fats in the intestines. This action makes fats unavailable for absorption and ensures that they will be eliminated from the bowel. Lastly, plant foods can also serve as medicinal agents. Besides the nutritional value of plants, they also contain certain phytochemicals. Some of these are useful for lowering blood cholesterol level. Examples of plant foods with cholesterol-lowering properties are discussed below.
Fish and Not Meat
As we grow older, it becomes even more important to cut back on meat and replace it with fish. Fish also contain fats but in lower amounts than meats. In addition, oily fish such as sardines, salmon and tuna are rich in the healthful omega-3 fatty acids. There is no consensus with regards to the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on blood cholesterol. However, it is widely accepted that omega-3 fatty acids are important to cardiovascular health.
Quit Smoking and Moderate Alcohol Intake
The most important lifestyle changes to make in order to lower your cholesterol are to stop smoking and to reduce your alcohol intake. Multiple studies have conclusively established that smoking lowers HDL cholesterol. In addition, people who quit smoking were shown to halve their risks of hypercholesterolemia and heart disease within a year. In this same way, alcohol affects cardiovascular health. Even though moderate alcohol intake is recommended, the gain is too small for alcohol consumption in moderation to be recommended as a healthy lifestyle choice.
Establishing a regular exercise regimen will do wonders to your blood cholesterol profile. Studies show that aerobic exercises raise HDL cholesterol and lowers both LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In addition, exercise burns stored fats in the body ensuring that they are not converted to cholesterol. It speeds up metabolism too. All of these benefits can be attained by exercising for 30 – 45 minutes, 3 – 4 times per week.
Adopt these Medicinal Foods
Some foods can also help lower your cholesterol level. Therefore, these foods can be both nutritional and medicinal. Garlic is one such food. It is used to season dishes but the sulfur compounds in the plant do have cholesterol-lowering properties. These compounds block the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver. A review of past studies investigating the cholesterol-lowering properties of garlic shows that it is effective for lowering total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Turmeric is another plant food that can lower cholesterol levels. Like garlic, it also inhibits the liver enzyme responsible for synthesizing cholesterol.
Green tea can also help lower your cholesterol. While it is mostly known for its antioxidant properties, green tea can also help prevent the absorption of dietary fat from the intestines. Studies show that it does not only lower total and LDL cholesterol but also raise HDL cholesterol. Artichoke is a vegetable with cholesterol-lowering property. In this case, its high fiber content prevents the absorption of fat and promote its elimination from the bowel. Furthermore, artichoke also blocks cholesterol production in the liver.
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