Many people with high cholesterol look for different ways to lower low-density lipoprotein , LDL, or "bad cholesterol," because it is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Herbs and supplements to lower cholesterol are some of the options you might consider.
In some cases, herbs and supplements can be used in conjunction with more traditional therapies to achieve this goal. However, until now, the scientific basis for the claim that they can be used safely to treat high cholesterol is less convincing.
This article explains why cholesterol is a health problem and what is known about how supplements can help. It also looks at who can benefit from supplementation and what foods they should choose.
Good and bad cholesterol
Cholesterol is a type of waxy fat that your liver makes or that you absorb from food. Your body needs it because it is a key component of your cells. It is also necessary for the production of hormones and certain digestive fluids.
However, in some people , blood cholesterol levels get too high. But high cholesterol is a term to get rid of.
Not all high cholesterol levels are a problem. It all depends on the composition of your total cholesterol.
Total cholesterol is the sum of two types of cholesterol in addition to other lipids:
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL): Known as "bad cholesterol," low-density lipoproteins build up and can damage the lining of your blood vessels. This can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis , commonly known as hardening of the arteries, as well as other health problems.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL): This type helps remove other cholesterol from the body, reducing the risk of negative health effects it can cause. Because of this, HDL is called "good cholesterol."
High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) are of concern. And while you may have high total cholesterol due to high LDL cholesterol, you may also have normal total cholesterol and high LDL cholesterol.
High cholesterol levels can be diagnosed if:
- LDL cholesterol is greater than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg / dL)
- HDL cholesterol below 60 mg / dL
- Total cholesterol greater than 200 mg / dL
What is considered healthy or dangerous for you may differ from this, depending on factors such as your age and family history.
Low LDL cholesterol and high HDL cholesterol are often specific targets for treatment and lifestyle changes.
Who can take supplements
Researchers are still trying to validate the benefits of supplements for treating high cholesterol levels. For this reason, it is not clear who can or cannot take them. In general, they are considered safer for young adults with no history of serious heart disease or risk.
However, everyone should speak with their doctor before taking supplements.
One reason for this is that your own medical history may include other health conditions that may be affected by taking the herb or dietary supplement.
Another problem could be the possibility of interactions with any medications you are already taking.
Supplementation may be one of the options for raising "good" HDL cholesterol levels, lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol levels, and in turn reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease. While research has shown that certain foods can help lower cholesterol levels, their benefits have yet to be proven. Before starting, it is important to speak with your doctor.
Niacin (vitamin B3)
Niacin, a form of vitamin B3 also called niacin, is used to lower cholesterol levels. Niacin appears to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and increase "good" HDL cholesterol. Niacin also significantly reduces the levels of another risk factor for atherosclerosis called lipoprotein A.
Niacin is available both by prescription and in dietary supplements. The American Heart Association recommends that patients only use prescription niacin to lower cholesterol levels.
Niacin can enhance the effects of high blood pressure medications. It can also cause nausea, indigestion, gas, diarrhea, or gout. This can make peptic ulcers worse and cause liver inflammation or high blood sugar levels.
The most common side effect of high doses of niacin is skin flushing or hot flashes. It is caused by the dilation of the blood vessels. Most people only notice this when they start taking niacin. Symptoms of flushing can be relieved by taking niacin with food.
Some researchers have suggested that high doses of niacin can help lower cholesterol levels when combined with commonly used drugs called statins. However, other studies have not shown any clinical benefit from this and have even suggested the possibility of some harm. The science is not conclusive, so they should not be combined unless under close medical supervision.
Due to its side effects, niacin should not be used to lower cholesterol levels without the supervision of a qualified physician.
Soluble fiber lowers LDL cholesterol by lowering the amount of cholesterol absorbed from the intestines.
Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol and is excreted from the body. It can be found in a dietary supplement like psyllium powder or in foods like:
- Oats, barley, rye
- Legumes (peas, beans)
- Certain fruits such as apples, prunes, and berries.
- Certain vegetables like carrots, broccoli, and yams.
Five to 10 grams of soluble fiber per day has been found to lower LDL cholesterol levels by approximately 5%. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows soluble fiber products to be labeled "good for the heart."
Other supplements and foods rich in soluble fiber include acacia fiber, shirataki noodles, nopal, and flaxseed.
Plant sterols and stanols
Plant stanols and sterols, such as beta-sitosterol, are natural substances found in some plants. Stanols are also found in the form of dietary supplements. Some are added to margarine, orange juice, and dressings.
Research shows that plant stanols and sterols can help lower cholesterol levels. They are similar in chemical structure and can block the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends taking 2 grams of plant sterols and stanols daily.
The FDA authorizes an approved phytosterols health statement that states: "Foods containing at least 0.65 grams per serving of vegetable oil esters and plant sterols, consumed twice daily during meals, with a total daily intake of at Less than 1.3 grams, as part of a Low Diet, saturated fat and cholesterol can reduce the risk of heart disease. "
Stanols and sterols appear to potentiate the effects of other cholesterol-lowering methods. In studies in people taking statins to lower cholesterol, there was a further improvement in cholesterol levels with stanols / sterols.
Some research suggests that artichoke ( Cynara scolymnus ) leaf extract may help lower cholesterol levels. Artichoke leaf extract can work by limiting the synthesis of cholesterol in the body.
Artichokes also contain a compound called cynarin. It is believed to increase bile production in the liver and accelerate the flow of bile from the gallbladder. Both actions can increase the excretion of cholesterol.
However, research has shown that the evidence for the use of artichoke leaves is not yet conclusive and more research is needed.
Other supplements that have been suggested to treat cholesterol have less evidence to support them.
Garlic has been shown to be ineffective in lowering cholesterol levels. Other supplements and foods that you may look at include policosanol , which can help control cholesterol levels, but research results are inconclusive.
More research is also needed to find out if coenzyme Q10 helps limit hardening of the arteries, often associated with cholesterol buildup and associated heart health problems.
Research also shows that the catechin compounds in green tea can help reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the body. Soy has also been found to help lower cholesterol levels, but most studies have shown minimal effects.
There is a potential danger in the case of red yeast rice because it contains a natural form of the prescription drug lovastatin.
Change risk behavior
High cholesterol is usually treated based on total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol levels, and the presence of additional risk factors for heart disease.
While some risk factors cannot be changed, others can. These risk factors can include:
- Previous heart attack
- Of smoking
- High blood pressure
- Low HDL cholesterol
- Family history of early heart disease
- Over 45 for men and over 55 for women
- 10-year heart attack risk greater than 20%
Of these, you can take steps not to smoke (or quit if you smoke). You can also treat high blood pressure and diabetes to keep them under control.
Before deciding to use an alternative medicine for high cholesterol, follow these tips:
- Talk to your doctor before starting any natural cholesterol-lowering method.
- Make sure your healthcare provider knows what supplements you are taking.
- Do not stop taking any existing cholesterol-lowering medications. If you have questions about medications, ask your doctor.
- The safety of alternative medicine has not been proven. Keep this in mind when considering supplements for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and babies. Safety is also not guaranteed for people with medical conditions or who are taking medication.
People who are concerned about high cholesterol levels may consider taking dietary supplements. This could mean trying these foods alone or in combination with traditional medicine.
Either way, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider about taking niacin, soluble fiber, or one of your other options.
It's also important to remember that the science of how safe or effective these natural foods are is not over yet. More research is needed to understand how supplements can help lower cholesterol levels.
Frequently asked questions
It can vary, but some studies have shown that certain supplements can lower cholesterol levels in a matter of weeks. In one study, participants who ate 2 grams of plant stanol esters a day lowered their LDL cholesterol levels by 12% in four weeks. In another study, people who took psyllium, a soluble fiber supplement, had significantly lower LDL cholesterol after taking it three times a day for eight weeks.
Probably not. While fish oil supplements have been found to lower triglyceride levels, they can actually cause a slight increase in LDL cholesterol. You can get more heart health benefits from eating fatty fish like salmon and sardines, which contain omega-3 fatty acids.
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