High Cholesterol: What Should You Do?
You go to the doctor for your annual wellness checkup. Your bloodwork shows that your cholesterol has gone up. In fact, for the past few years, your numbers have creeped up more and more.
Your levels aren’t insanely high, yet your doctor suggests it may be time to start taking cholesterol-lowering statin medication. Should you?
This scenario happens every day, and most people succumb to the pressure placed on them to take drugs to help “solve” the problem. But in reality, statins come with so many side effects that their risks often outweigh their benefits. Some of the most serious include:
- Muscle damage and pain
- Cognitive problems such as memory loss and confusion
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Lack of energy
- Heart problems, such as atrial fibrillation and heart failure
- Increased blood sugar
- Damage to the liver, kidney, and pancreas
- Sexual dysfunction in men
- Depletion of essential nutrients like CoQ10
Of course, there are some instances when statins make sense. But if your cholesterol is only borderline high, you may want to consider natural alternatives first.
Before getting into those options, it’s helpful to understand a little bit more about cholesterol…
The medical community has had us believing that cholesterol is a “sinister” substance. But in reality, it is actually an important structural component in each and every cell, and your body needs a certain amount of it to function properly.
Because cholesterol can’t dissolve in blood, lipoproteins carry it to and from cells. Two of the main types of lipoproteins include high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
You probably hear some very common generalizations about both HDL and LDL—the most popular being HDL is “good” and LDL is “bad.” While mostly true, it’s a little more complex than that.
HDL is considered protective because it transports excess cholesterol away from the arteries and out the body. LDL is considered harmful because it can stick to the walls of your arteries and form plaque.
But interestingly, LDL particle size is starting to be recognized as an predictor for heart disease as well.
You see, LDL particles can be large and “fluffy,” or small and dense. The bigger, more buoyant particles are not nearly as problematic as the tiny, denser ones. The small particles can much more easily attach themselves to arterial walls. So, if you have greater number of small, dense LDL particles, you likely have a much greater risk of heart disease than if your LDL particles are larger.
So, if you want a more complete story about your cholesterol and how much of a risk it poses, get an analysis of particle size along with your standard lipid profile.
Natural Cholesterol Therapies
Every person and every health situation is unique. If you have very high LDL numbers with more small particles than large, statin therapy may, in fact, be your best option.
But for mild or moderately high cholesterol, given the facts about statins, you may want to consider natural therapies that have fewer side effects and equally effective benefits.
First and foremost, diet and exercise are crucially important. Avoid processed food and sugar, and stick with a diet of mainly whole foods that come directly from the earth. In addition, regular exercise can lessen LDL and raise beneficial HDL. Try to get some form of exercise most days of the week.
And then there are supplements. Unlike statins, most supplements have beneficial effects on cholesterol without the serious side effects. The following are definitely worth a try:
Phytosterols are components in plant-based foods that minimize cholesterol naturally. Phytosterols have a similar molecular structure to cholesterol and work by stopping the body’s ability to absorb it. So instead of potentially attaching to artery walls, cholesterol leaves the body as waste. As an added bonus, sterols appear to only have this effect on LDL, leaving HDL alone.
All you need to do to boost your phytosterol intake is to regularly eat foods rich in this compound. Incorporate a wide array of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes in your diet, as well as olive oil. (At the same time, remove processed foods, sugar/high-fructose corn syrup, and trans fats.)
The only real downside is that, for best results, you need to consume massive amounts of these foods! Research suggests that 2 to 3 grams of plant sterols per day offer optimal protection. That’s the equivalent of 50+ apples or three heads of lettuce per day.
For this reason, the best option is to take a plant sterol supplement every day.
Soluble fiber. Psyllium, a type of soluble fiber used as a bulk-forming laxative, can cut cholesterol levels. You can either take this in supplement form (Metamucil, for instance), or simply eat more whole grains and veggies.
Citrus bergamot. Bergamot is a bitter citrus fruit native to the Calabria region of Italy. When concentrated and in supplement form, bergamot lowers LDL almost as effectively as statins—but with the added benefit of increasing HDL, which statins can’t do.
In one study, researchers divided 77 patients with high cholesterol and triglycerides into one of four groups: control (placebo); 10 mg of rosuvastatin (Crestor) daily for 30 days; 20 mg of rosuvastatin daily for 30 days; or 1,000 mg of bergamot plus 10 mg rosuvastatin daily for 30 days. After the treatment period, the addition of the bergamot to statin therapy significantly enhanced the cholesterol-lowing effects compared to the drug alone.
In a more recent clinical review that included 12 studies, 75% showed a significant decrease in total cholesterol (between 12.3–31.3% reduction), triglycerides (7.6–40.8% reduction), and LDL (11.5–39.5% reduction). Eight of the 12 also reported an increase in HDL.
An important benefit of bergamot is that it achieves all these statin-like effects without affecting CoQ10 production, which is one of the biggest downsides of statins.
Vitamin K2 supports cardiovascular health by inhibiting calcification in the arteries and keeping arteries elastic. Some research suggests it may play a role in reducing levels of cholesterol. One study concluded that “a pharmacological dose of vitamin K2 prevents both the progression of atherosclerosis and the coagulative tendency by reducing total cholesterol.”
You can find both bergamot and vitamin K2 in Newport Natural Health’s Cholesterol Support. And both psyllium fiber and phytosterol supplements are readily available at most drug stores and health food stores. Give these a try, and get your cholesterol rechecked in six months to see how much it’s improved!
- Gliozzi M, et al. Bergamot polyphenolic fraction enhances rosuvastatin-induced effect on LDL-cholesterol, LOX-1 expression and protein kinase B phosphorylation in patients with hyperlipidemia. Int J Cardiol. 2013 Dec 10;170(2):140-5.
- Lamiquiz-Monea I, et al. Effect of bergamot on lipid profile in humans: a systematic review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2020;60(18):3133-43.
- Kawashima H, et al. Effects of K2 (menatetrenone) on atherosclerosis and blood coagulation in hypercholesterolemic rabbits. J Pharmacol. 1997 Oct;75(2):135-43.