The American Heart Association (AHA) has done a great job discovering what cholesterol does and how it affects our health. We know that high cholesterol can cause heart disease and stroke, and by lowering our cholesterol we reduce our risk and keep our bodies healthy. Also, with diet, weight loss, and exercise we can improve our cholesterol levels as well.
Not all cholesterol is bad for you. There are both good and bad forms of cholesterol, keeping these in balance is critical for proper heart health. In the past, the primary focus was to reduce the total or “bad” cholesterol and doctors overlooked the HDL good cholesterol. Recent research suggests that raising HDL levels may provide even more protection against heart disease. Raising the HDL by 1% can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 2% in men and 3% in women. For example, if your HDL is 36mg/dl and it increased by 3.6mg/dl that’s 10%, which can make you 20-30% less likely to have heart disease. Several studies have proven that low HDL is a risk factor in heart disease. (17)
Prescription drugs are available to lower cholesterol and have been proven very effective. Millions of Americans can attest to the cholesterol lowing properties of prescription drugs and they can attest to the side effects as well. Prescription drugs (statins) can cause elevated liver enzymes which are an early indication of possible liver damage. These statins’ have also been associated with muscle inflammation and muscle degeneration, causing muscle pain in many patients. Statin drugs also reduce the CoQ10 levels in the body; this can lead to heart disease if left go long enough. Statins do very little for boosting good cholesterol levels and as we recall boosting good cholesterol can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is fatty like substance found in every living cell in the body. Cholesterol helps digest fats, strengthen cell membranes, and make hormones. The majority of our cholesterol is manufactured in the liver, but cholesterol is also produced in the small intestines and by individual cells in the body. Even though the body makes all the cholesterol we need, approximately 1000 milligrams a day, we get additional cholesterol in our diet. (2,3) Foods highest in cholesterol are egg yolks and organ meat such as liver and kidney. No plant-based food sources have cholesterol even avocado and peanut butter, they are only high in fat content. Animal sources and dairy all contain cholesterol.
Even though cholesterol is needed for many of the body’s functions, too much in the blood is bad. Excess amounts of cholesterol in the blood lead to arterial cholesterol build up and increase your risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. (4) All your cells live off a constant flow of blood which supplies oxygen and nutrients. When cholesterol builds up on the arteries, the blood flow is reduced through the heart. If a blood clot hits a narrow artery and blocks blood flow a heart attack happens. If the arteries narrow and not enough blood flows to the heart one will experience heart pain and given time a heart attack as well.
Cholesterol can not dissolve into the blood so the cholesterol has to be transported through the blood by a special carrier called lipoproteins. Two well-known lipoproteins are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is associated with bad cholesterol and HDL is considered good cholesterol. LDL distributes cholesterol throughout the entire body and is the cause of arterial fat build-up. HDL carries cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver to be processed and eliminated. HDL reduces arterial fat build-up and reduces risk or heart disease. In fact, studies have shown that raising the HDL, good cholesterol can reduce your risk of heart disease more than lowering the LDL. As a result, the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) has established these guidelines for a healthy heart: (5)
1. HDL level of 60 is optimal but 40 for men and 50 for women on average.
2. LDL levels in the range of 100 – 159 are best.
3. Total cholesterol both HDL and LDL under 200.
Your doctor has probably been throwing around the work triglycerides. Triglycerides are the fats our body uses as fuel, the metabolisms energy source. Your triglyceride level changes with every meal throughout the day. If the levels rise too much it’s a sign your meals have too many carbohydrates and sugars. Triglycerides are another risk factor in heart disease. High amounts cause the blood to be sluggish and it reduces the amount of oxygen the blood can transport especially in the small blood vessels. There are medications available for triglycerides, but keep in mind there are side effects to taking statins. Consider a diet with reduced carbohydrate and sugar to lower those triglycerides along with a good vitamin and supplement regiment.
For a healthy heart consider the following vitamins, minerals, and herbs: vitamin C, E, B-6, B-12, niacin, folic acid, magnesium, selenium and amino acids, also antioxidants coenzyme Q10, alpha-lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), policosanol, red yeast rice, and herbs hawthorn berry, garlic, grape seed, pine bark, soy isoflavones have all shown to have beneficial effects for a better cardiovascular system and a healthier heart.
Vitamin C – An antioxidant shown to reduce arterial stiffness and inhibit platelet aggregation – two factors known to promote atherosclerosis. (6)
Vitamin E – An antioxidant protects against atherosclerotic plaques and shown to reduce total cholesterol levels. (7)
Niacin – lowers total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, while raising the HDL cholesterol. (8)
Vitamin B12 – shown to reduce Homocysteine levels. (8)
Coenzyme Q10 – A fat-soluble nutrient found in the mitochondria of virtually all cells and an essential factor in the Krebs cycle (cellular energy production). (9) A strong antioxidant is shown to help prevent LDL oxidation and strengthen the inner lining of arteries.