Reducing Cholesterol Levels Naturally
   by James Occhiogrosso, N.D.


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Due to publicity about the danger of high cholesterol levels and the constant bombardment of pharmaceutical commercials in the media, many individuals unreasonably worry about their cholesterol levels and are coerced into using statin drugs to reduce them.  Unfortunately, more than 50% of statin users develop muscle injury directly from these drugs.
[1] 

This muscle injury is a side effect of all statin drugs that usually manifests itself with muscle aches and pains.  In some cases, it can result in a condition called rhabdomyolysis, a potentially fatal condition that destroys skeletal and cardiac muscle.  One of the statin drugs, Cirivastatin, (marketed in the U.S. as Baycol) was withdrawn from the market in 2001 due to serious, life-threatening rhabdomyolysis developing in many users.

Many doctors are in denial about these side effects and tend to dismiss them.  This is mainly due to the fact that pharmaceutical manufacturers producing statin drugs rarely publicize their side effects, and when they do, they are buried in the small print or minimized to a very small percentage of total users. 

Various studies have shown that statin drugs interfere with the body mechanisms that both build muscle and help muscle recover after exercise.  One of these is called Coenzyme Q10 (Co-Q10). 

Co-Q10 is an essential enzyme that is ubiquitous in the body (hence, it’s name ubiquinone). It has no dietary requirement since the body can manufacture it.  However, the human heart is one of the largest users of Co-Q10 in the body, and depletion of Co-Q10 can lead to serious problems, including various cardiac arrhythmias and congestive heart failure.  A major cause of statin-related muscle pain is that all drugs in this class, including Lipitor, Zocor, Vitorin, and others, as well as herbs containing natural statins like Red Yeast Rice, deplete body levels of Co-Q10. 

Depletion of Co-Q10 can lead to muscle pain and damage. And—Muscle tissue damaged by a statin drug is certainly contrary to maintaining good health, especially when the damaged muscle tissue is part of the heart muscle—the very organ you are taking the drug to protect!

Red Yeast Rice contains a naturally occurring statin called Mevastatin.  As with most herbal products, it contains many other natural substances, some of which act synergistically to reduce negative effects.  This is not true of synthetic statin drugs that contain only one isolated synthetic chemical.

Pharmaceutical companies have continually been trying to get the FDA to ban the use of Red Yeast Rice due to safety concerns.  Of course, we all know the reason for this has little to do with safety—especially since recent studies have shown that Red Yeast Rice is an effective way to support health cholesterol levels. [2]

Almost everyone visiting their primary care physician today gets a blood test that includes their total cholesterol level with a breakdown of the values of LDL (the so-called “bad” cholesterol) and HDL (the “good” cholesterol).  Most of them are prescribed statin drugs if their levels exceed the guidelines recommended by the American Heart Association. [3]  

Many of these individuals could lower their cholesterol levels naturally with lifestyle changes and some natural supplements.  Unfortunately, they are rarely directed to these natural solutions and instead are given a prescription for a statin drug.

There are many ways to lower your cholesterol naturally. The following paragraph is from the American Heart Association website:

“On the whole, Americans should reduce the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and total fat in their diet. If you have high blood cholesterol, it's very important to control high blood pressure, avoid tobacco smoke, eat a healthy diet, get regular physical activity, maintain a healthy weight, and control or delay the onset of diabetes. Taking these steps will help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. If you still need drugs to reduce your blood cholesterol, a healthy diet and active lifestyle will help lower your cholesterol and improve your overall cardiovascular health.”

If lifestyle changes are not enough, then you can consider using natural supplements to help support lower cholesterol levels.

The most powerful supplement to support lower cholesterol levels is Red Yeast Rice.  A recent study published in the June 2009 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine measured the lowering of cholesterol levels using Red Yeast Rice verses a placebo and contributes that:

“After 12 and 24 weeks, patients who received red yeast rice, 1800 mg twice daily, had significantly larger improvements in both LDL and total cholesterol levels than did patients who received placebo. Pain, creatinine phospho-kinase levels, and liver enzyme levels did not differ between groups.”

However, there are many other natural ways to support lower cholesterol levels. Red Yeast Rice, being a natural statin has many of the same side effects—albeit at much less dangerous levels—as prescription statin drugs, including depletion of body levels of Co-Q10. Before deciding to use Red Yeast Rice, consult with your doctor about using other natural products and lifestyle enhancements. If after trying other techniques, you are still having a problem, you can then consider using Red Yeast Rice.

Some other useful cholesterol support supplements are listed below:

Beta-Sitosterol — The most well studied phytosterol is beta-sitosterol.  It is similar (chemically) to cholesterol but is absorbed at a much lower rate by the body.  Studies show that an intake of 130-160 mg/day can help lower cholesterol levels in humans.  [4] [5] [6]

Grape Seed Extract — According to researchers at the University of Maryland medical center, a study of 40 people with high cholesterol assessed the effects of grape seed extract, chromium, a combination of both, or placebo for 2 months. The combination of grape seed extract and chromium was more effective than either substance alone or placebo in reducing total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol. [7]

Niacin — An ingredient in some cholesterol lowering combination drugs, niacin is a B vitamin with known cholesterol lowering effects.  The drawback to its use is it can cause skin flushing and hot flashes at high doses that are harmless but very uncomfortable. [8]

Chromium Picolinate — Chromium is an essential mineral found in very low concentrations in the human body. Low chromium levels can increase blood sugar, triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood), cholesterol levels, and increase the risk for a number of conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. [9] [10]

Foods:

  • Garlic — Garlic is also been shown to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol  levels and increase blood circulation in both animals and humans.  These are all of critical importance in preventing diabetes, heart disease, dementia, as well as prostate problems and ED. [11] [12] 

  • Walnuts — Harvard scientists have found diets rich in walnuts can significantly reduce cholesterol levels, supporting growing evidence to suggest these popular nuts can improve healthy blood lipid ratios. [13] 

  • Oatmeal — Oatmeal is a popular and nutritious food, well suited for individuals with stomach problems.  It contains levels of various plant sterols including beta-sitisterol and has been shown in many studies that regular use can help lower cholesterol levels. [14] [15] [16]   

In addition, many supplement manufacturers produce combination products that blend many of the items above and others into a single pill designed to help support cholesterol levels. On our website we offer one called Choledrene, which combines a lesser amount of Red Yeast Rice with Co-Q10 and some other useful other herbs in one product.  Many of my clients have found it useful. 

Summarizing, There are many way to reduce cholesterol levels other than by using statin drugs.  A good nutritional plan with lots of exercise, as well proper supplementation with vitamins and minerals can enhance overall health before your cholesterol levels start rising. 

If, in spite of good nutrition and supplementation, your levels are still high, you can proceed to the next step.  First, try the milder supplements and foods and some lifestyle changes (like more exercise).  If you are not successful after a few months, than trying Red Yeast Rice is warranted.  In most cases, your goals will be met and you will avoid the need to take statin drugs.  Just remember if you take any item containing a statin, even a natural one like that in Red Yeast Rice, you should supplement with at least 120 mg of Co-Q10 daily to replace that which the statin depletes.

References:

[1] Association between statin-associated myopathy and skeletal muscle damage. http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/181/1-2/E11 

[2] Statin Drugs vs. Red Yeast Rice, Pulse of Health Freedom, July 21, 2009, http://aahf.nonprofitsoapbox.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=837&Itemid=

[3] American Heart Association – Recommendation for Cholesterol Levels http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4500

[4] Thompson, G. R., et al. History and development of plant sterol and stanol esters for cholesterol-lowering purposes. The American Journal of Cardiology, Vol. 96 No. 1A:3D-9D, July 2005.

[5] Katan, M.B., et al.  Efficacy and safety of plant stanols and sterols in the management of blood cholesterol levels. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Vol. 78 No. 8:965-78, Aug. 2003.

[6] Nguyen, T. The Cholesterol-Lowering Action of Plant Stanol Esters. Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 129:2109-2112, Dec. 1999.

[8] James F. Balch, Phyllis Balch, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 3rd ed., Avery Books, 2000, pg. 456.

[9] The effect of chromium picolinate on serum cholesterol and apolipoprotein fractions in human subjects. West J Med. 1990 January; 152(1): 41–45.  http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1002252

[10] University of Maryland Medical Center, http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/chromium-000294.htm

[11] Pedraza-Chaverrí, J., et al. Garlic prevents hypertension induced by chronic inhibition of nitric oxide synthesis. Life Sciences, Vol. 62, No. 6 :71-77, Jan. 1998.

[12] Borek, C. Garlic Reduces Dementia and Heart-Disease Risk. The Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 136:810S-812S, March 2006.

[14] Berg A., et al. Effect of an oat bran enriched diet on the atherogenic lipid profile in patients with an increased coronary heart disease risk. A controlled randomized lifestyle intervention study. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, Vol. 47:306-311, 2003.

[15] Anderson, J.W., et al. Oat-bran cereal lowers serum total and LDL cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 52:495-499, Dec. 1990.

[16] Ripson, C.M., et al. Oat products and lipid lowering. A meta-analysis. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 267, No. 24:3317-3325, June 1992.


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