For years we’ve been told that cholesterol is a big problem. I don’t believe that’s really the case. After all, cholesterol is not the enemy – it’s a vitally important building block for everything from vitamin D to our sex hormones. Having said that, I do believe in keeping a balance of cholesterol. Keeping our HDL to LDL ratio healthy is one of the most important aspects of cardiovascular health. But having a balance of cholesterol can be difficult. After all, our bodies produce cholesterol – as much as 1000 mg per day, so for anyone predisposed to having an imbalance, it can feel like an uphill battle. That’s why I appreciate natural ingredients that don’t dramatically drop the cholesterol we truly need or damage the liver the way that statin drugs do. If you’re thinking about using statin drugs, please think again. I’d like to present you with a much healthier alternative.
“Good” Cholesterol vs. “Bad” Cholesterol
While this is simplifying things a bit, you can break cholesterol into High-Density Lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL or “good” cholesterol) and Low-Density Lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL or “bad” cholesterol). Admittedly, my opinion about cholesterol is going to differ quite a bit from a lot of established practice, but let’s think of it this way: boosting HDL levels is a good idea, and you can’t do that with the Standard American Diet (SAD) with its emphasis on refined foods and sugars and poor balance of fatty acids. But while cholesterol isn’t the enemy, you still want to maintain a balanced cholesterol profile, i.e. low in LDL, high in HDL and HDL to LDL ratio. Having a high HDL level is a scientifically validated way to stay healthy and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The trouble is that most conventional medical practices think that the best way to deal with this is by prescribing cholesterol-destroying drugs called “statin drugs.” They are wrong. Statins are one of the most deadly drugs on the planet. For starters, statins may cause cancer. In fact, studies show that this could be a real long term danger for men and women currently taking statins, but very little is heard about this risk. Secondly, statins can actually contribute to the cause of heart failure. Statins lower levels of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a crucial element for cellular energy production in the mitochondria – the cellular “engine.” Since CoQ10 is needed by virtually every cell in the body – especially those cells that use the most energy like the heart and cardiovascular system, you can understand how much more risk statins create right off the bat. None of this is unknown to conventional practice. In fact, many doctors would argue that the very fact of declining CoQ10 levels is evidence that the statins are working! After all, they reason, that’s how you know the drug is being metabolized in the liver! And yet, if you were to suggest supplementing with CoQ10, I would guarantee that nine out of ten conventional medical practitioners would try to talk you out of it. Yet lack of CoQ10 dramatically weakens the heart and reduces its ability to beat energetically. Here’s something else to think about: 5 million Americans have Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), and there are 500,000 new cases each year of this largely preventable, lifestyle-based disease. Sadly, half of those patients with CHF will be dead within 5 years. And yet, statin drug sales have increased to almost $20 billion. How can we say that we’re truly interested in preventing disease with numbers like this?
What really causes heart attacks – it isn’t cholesterol
Do you know what really causes heart attacks? It isn’t cholesterol. It is oxidation and inflammation. Consider what’s happening in the arteries. Cholesterol particles travel just fine through the bloodstream. Inflammatory changes cause damage to the lining of the blood vessel, which attracts white blood cells. Inflammation causes oxidative damage. This damage requires a bandaid. What does your body use for the bandaid? LDL cholesterol! Only when LDL becomes oxidized does it begin to form plaques in the wall of the artery. Blaming cholesterol for heart disease is like blaming your bandaid for the scrape on your knee. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is part of the body’s repair system. As it moves through blood vessels and arteries, it scoops up LDL cholesterol and returns it to the liver so it can be broken down. That’s why balancing your levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol – and not putting your liver and health at risk with statins – is so important. One way to do that is to keep blood vessels and arteries flexible and healthy so they are less affected by oxidative stress and inflammation, and to reduce levels of chronic inflammation in your body. The other is to gently and naturally reduce the amount of cholesterol your body absorbs and more importantly, reabsorbs, through the digestive system. There are two ingredients that do just that: alpa-linolenic acid and plant sterols.
Alpha-linolenic acid – a plant-sourced omega-3 fatty acid
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fatty acid found in leafy green vegetables, almonds, walnuts, and especially flaxseeds. One of the best sources of alpha-linolenic acid is flaxseed (Linium usitataissimum) oil. This omega-3 fatty acid acts as an anti-inflammatory and helps keep the cellular structure of blood vessels and arteries healthy and flexible. A small amount of the alpha-linoleic acid from flaxseed oil is converted to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in the body. Some research has shown that it can convert to smaller amounts of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) as well, although not as consistently. Omega-3s are immensely important to cardiovascular health. They not only keep blood vessels supple and flexible (which reduces blood pressure) they reduce the accumulation or “aggregation” of blood platelets that lead to clogged arteries by reducing the output of prostaglandin thromboxane A(2), an inflammatory signaling molecule in the body. However, ALA also has healthy properties without being converted to EPA and DHA. One of the clinical studies establishing a link between alpha-linolenic acid and heart health showed that it reduced inflammation, lowered levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) and decreased levels of vascular cell adhesion molecules – the very molecules that, when inflamed from oxidative stress, can end up creating the blocked blood vessels that cause atherosclerosis. Alpha-linolenic acid also lowers the risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD) in women. Although heart disease has long been associated with men, it is actually the second leading cause of mortality for women. In the Nurses’ Health Study, a massive 10-year follow-up study, the diets and instances of coronary risk factors of women ages 35 to 55 were examined. The researchers found that a higher intake of ALA could reduce the risk of IHD. Additionally, one of the major benefits of ALA intake was noted in the National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute Family Heart Study. In a cross-section test of over 4500 participants, ALA was shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease (CAD). One of the very important ways it does this is by supporting a strong, healthy heartbeat and rhythm. And, another study found further evidence of the benefit of ALA showing that it lowers fasting serum triglyceride levels.
Plant sterols – a simple – but clever ingredient
If you follow developments in the health food industry, or have heard of more recent developments in what are called ‘functional foods’, you’ve probably heard about plant sterols (also called ‘phytosterols’). Plant sterols actually work on a very simple principal. They take over the sites in the intestines, where cholesterol would be either absorbed or reabsorbed. Plant sterols are shaped so much like cholesterol that they fit perfectly into spots – the “parking places”, or perhaps “driveways” through which cholesterol would normally absorb. Plant sterols also help prevent the re-absorption of old, used-up cholesterol that our body is trying to excrete. Once our liver dumps this waste cholesterol into our intestines, it really needs to latch onto a fiber source to carry it out of the body. If you’re not getting a lot of fiber in your diet that day, it gets reabsorbed, which can be an unhealthy circumstance. Remember, the body creates about 80% of your cholesterol, so this isn’t always just coming from food sources. In fact, someone following a vegan/vegetarian diet can have better cholesterol balance by using phytosterols!
You don’t need statins!
There are a number of things you can do that affect your cholesterol balance. One is exercise. Choose an activity that you really enjoy and stick with it. When your weight is healthy, your body has a better chance of keeping your LDL where it should be. Not sure where to begin? Check out my article, “Short Burst Exercise vs. Conventional Exercising”. Only eat whole, unrefined foods. Avoid all sweeteners and refined grains. Not only do refined carbohydrates keep you fat (which fats don’t do, despite the conventional “fat phobia” out there), they also raise your triglyceride levels and get you on the road to type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome. Either way, processed foods cause a lot of inflammation in the body, and throws a healthy LDL/HDL ratio completely out of balance. Another big lifestyle change is to stop smoking. Aside from its damage to your cells and respiratory system, cigarette smoking causes inflammation and oxidative stress throughout the cardiovascular system that can lead to hardened and clogged arteries. If you are struggling with an HDL/LDL imbalance, I recommend at least 1200 mg of alpha-linolenic acid from pure Nordic flaxseed oil combined with 900 mg of plant sterols each day. I think these natural ingredients make good sense. Add them to your regimen, and see if they work to get your HDL and LDL ratio to a much better place. Reducing and eliminating risks for heart disease is one of the best ways you can avoid disability as you age, and can lengthen your life span significantly! It pays to pay attention to your heart.
|Terry recommends products with these ingredients. Look for them at your local health food store.|
|Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) (Omega-3) from Pure Nordic Flaxseed Oil (cold-pressed)||1200 mg|
|Plant Sterols||900 mg|