Tag Archives: how to lower my cholesterol

3 Medical Myths Debunked

Health care can be a confusing field.  There is so much information out there, much of it conflicting, that leaves consumers confused about their health.  Well, today I am here to sort some of them out for you.  Below are some common medical myths that people believe but are not necessarily true.

1. High Cholesterol Means a High Heart Attack Risk

This is perhaps the biggest one I see in practice.  Everyone thinks that having high cholesterol means they are at risk for having a heart attack.  They also think that having low cholesterol is protecting them from heart disease and heart attacks.  Neither is true!  As a matter of fact, 50% of the people who have heart attacks annually have high cholesterol and 50% have low cholesterol. To most people this is an astounding stat, but it’s true.  What has been shown in the research is that your total cholesterol is not actually a predictor of heart disease.  Looking at the break down of the HDL (the good) versus LDL (the bad) cholesterol is helpful but still is not the entire story.  What you should be looking at is the size of your cholesterol.  How do you do that?  It’s simple really.  It’s just a blood test.  It is how the lab analyzes your cholesterol that’s different.  Without getting to technical, small, dense particles of LDL cholesterol are bad because they can make their way into the lining of your blood vessels most easily.  Light, fluffy, large pieces of LDL are not problematic because they cannot readily get into the walls of your vessels and cause the atherosclerotic plaques that are so dangerous.  These are tests that several of the largest laboratories are performing now and give us better information about cardiovascular health.  I have begun measuring cholesterol in this fashion on all my high risk cardiovascular patients and the results have helped us tailor nutritional programs that will be most effective for them.

2. Bed Rest of Back Pain

I recently had someone visit my office on a Monday for an acute case of back pain.  She was in quite a bit of distress and discomfort.  So much so that she had been to the emergency room over the weekend.  There she was given test and test and finally told that her back pain was not life threatening and to go home, take some pain killers and get bed rest for 5 days.  The advice of bed rest is still being given out by many physicians around the country for back pain despite the evidence that overwhelmingly concludes that this only makes back pain worse. In fact, the research shows that if you do go with bed rest you are much more likely to develop a chronic back problem.  If you have an episode of back pain do not stay in bed.  Your best bet is to stay as active as possible.  Your goal should be to continue your normal activities, within reason, but modify these activities to fit your current limitations.  Now, if your normal activities include vigorous exercise you may want to hold off on that until your back is feeling better, but you should try to walk if you can.  Rest if you need to, but keeping the joints and muscles of the back active even when they are hurt is the best way for them to heal appropriately.  You should also see a chiropractor.  Chiropractors are trained extensively on the back and know how to provide nonsurgical relief for back pain.

3. Eating Fat Makes You Fat

This is a biggie.  People come into my office for a lot of reasons.  However, regardless of their initial reason I always ask about their diet.  Inevitably someone will tell me they eat a healthy diet because they eat low fat.  People assume that low fat is the best way to keep fat from accumulating around their midsection (and everywhere else!).  This simply is not true.  It seems intuitive that eating fat would make you fat just like saving money makes you rich.  However, things in the human body are hardly ever that linear.  The way the human body stores fat is by secreting a hormone called insulin.  Insulin is secreted when a person consumes carbohydrates (bread, pasta, sugar) and to some degree protein.  Insulin signals the body’s cells to take in the energy in the blood, in the form of sugar, and store it as fat or use it.  Notice that I did not say that fat causes insulin release?  That’s because it doesn’t!  If fat does not cause the body to secrete the hormone necessary for fat storage then how can fat make you fat?  It can’t!  This myth comes from the fact that fat is higher in calorie than other foods but somewhere along the line people made the leap that eating fat caused fat to accumulate in the body.  When fat is consumed it is actually slowly converted to sugar and burned, not stored.

There are many more to choose from, but these are some of the most common that I see in my office.  If you’d like to know more, let me know in the comments section and I’ll post about your questions.

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5 Natural Ways to Lower Cholesterol

In my clinic people come to see me for all kinds of reasons.  One of the reasons people often see me is because they have high cholesterol.  High cholesterol has been linked to heart disease and is seen as one of the main causes of preventable death in this country.

This theory that high cholesterol actually causes heart disease by itself has many holes in it.  However, the pharmaceutical companies would like you to believe that if you lower your cholesterol you will significantly reduce your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.  The evidence does not support this statement.

Cholesterol is not an independent risk factor for heart disease.  So what does that mean?  It means that high cholesterol alone is not enough to cause heart disease.  There are many other factors that must be present in order for heart disease to occur.  The main risk factor is inflammation.  This inflammation can be measured in a simple blood test.  The tests you should request from your doctor are called hs-CRP and homocysteine.  Both of these are inflammatory markers and they give a good indication of your risk factor for a future cardiovascular event or heart attack/stroke.

The theory that high cholesterol alone causes heart disease is flawed.  For example, there are large populations of people that have very high cholesterol and heart disease is almost nonexistent in their culture.  The Eskimo tribes of the Arctic are great examples of this.  Also, research shows that 50% of people that have heart attacks have cholesterol that is considered too high (>200 mg/dl).  That means that the other 50% have cholesterol numbers that are within the normal ranges!

With that said, cholesterol does increase your risk for heart disease in the presence of other risk factors like inflammation.  It does not make sense to lower cholesterol alone and expect to be protected from heart disease.  It does make sense, however, to work on those levels in conjunction with reducing your other risk factors.  Today I will tell you of the best natural ways that you can lower your cholesterol.

For a quick reference here are the current medical guidelines for cholesterol.

  • Total cholesterol: Less than 200 milligrams per deciliter
  • LDL (“bad”) cholesterol: Less than 100 milligrams per deciliter
  • HDL (“good”) cholesterol: 40 milligrams per deciliter or higher (the higher the better!)
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 milligrams per deciliter

The Best Natural Ways to Lower Cholesterol

1. Low Carbohydrate Diet

In my opinion everything should start with diet.  Study after study has confirmed that eating a low carbohydrate diet is much more effective in the short term and long term in managing cholesterol levels.  It sounds counter intuitive that eating a diet that is higher in fat reduces cholesterol levels but the data is there.  The mantra that eating fat raises cholesterol levels does not hold true.  It is actually the sugar (carbohydrate) that causes cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels to sky rocket.  I routinely put my patients on low carbohydrate diets to reduce cholesterol and have yet to see it fail.  The only problem is that sometimes their cholesterol levels become too low!  Low cholesterol is just as problematic as high cholesterol.

2. Exercise

This one might be a no-brainer, but it must be incorporated.  Exercise has many benefits, but specifically it is known to raise the HDLs and lower the LDLs.  It also improves heart muscle function, mood, cognitive performance, bone strength and many other factors associated with overall wellness.  I can’t stress exercise enough.

3. Plant Sterols

Also known as phytosterols, these naturally occurring substances are found in high amounts in vegetable oils.  They are mostly undigested and act by inhibiting your absorption of cholesterol in the following way – they prevent cholesterol from being emulsified in the gastrointestinal track.  When fats, like cholesterol, are not emulsified the body cannot absorb them.  Because plant sterols are not absorbed, they have very little, if any, side effect.  They work wonders for people with high cholesterol.  My advice would be not to purchase these over the counter.  In speaking with some nutrition companies I have found that these are rather difficult to put into supplement form so buying them over the counter from a discount brand is unlikely to produce the results you are looking for.  Purchase them from a doctor trained in functional medicine and who works with a reputable nutrition company.  They may be slightly more expensive, but you get what you pay for.  Here is a link to my website and the companies that I use.

4. Niacin

Niacin, or vitamin B3, is another great natural way to lower cholesterol numbers.  It is found in red meat, chicken, turkey and beans among other things.  It is extremely safe with the only side effect being a temporary flushing effect in the skin shortly after taking it.  This can be avoided by purchasing a non-flush niacin.  It has been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase the HDL (good) cholesterol.  Doses are different for everyone and can range from 500 to 5,000 mg per day taken one to two times per day.  It has been shown to reduce heart attacks by 27% and stroke by 26%.

5. Fish Oil

Fish oil is great for a lot of things.  While it does not directly impact total cholesterol levels, it does reduce triglyceride levels in the blood and raise the HDL level.  Triglyceride is a measure fat in the blood.  It usually has implications on total cholesterol levels.  Fish oil is so effective it has been made into a drug by GlaxoSmithKline called Lovaza.  It is ridiculously expensive at $175 for a one month supply.  (Read my blog about it here.)  The dose offered from Lovaza is also much too low at 1 gram per day.  An effective dose is about 4-6 grams per day.  You should also buy this through a reputable nutrition company as many cheap brands contain mercury, PCBs and other toxins.  (Read my blog about that here.) A one month supply of a quality fish oil will probably cost between $25-$35 depending on how much you need to take.  Much better than $175!

Lowering cholesterol by itself is not a full proof plan for protection against heart disease.  It must be part of a total approach because high cholesterol by itself is not dangerous.  However, it is useful if you lower your other risk factors. My advice to my patients is not to rely solely on a pill if you want to reach your goal.  You must change your diet as well.  Low carb, as mentioned above, is the way to go.  If you combine the best of these two approaches you should be able to hit your target cholesterol in no time.

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