Dealing with High Cholesterol using Nutrition & Herbs
Cholesterol production is one of the most basic and essential functions of the body and we all need a good supply of cholesterol to keep us in a healthy balance.
Although we may instinctively think all cholesterol is a bad thing, this couldn’t be farther from the truth! We always need to strive for a healthy balance of everything in the body, and cholesterol is no exception.
Cholesterol (also called “lipids”) serves numerous supportive and functional roles in the body including:
- Plays a major role in transmission of nerve impulses
- Essential for Vitamin D synthesis
- Serves as a precursor to bile acids and emulsifies fats
- Cholesterol is the backbone of all sex hormone synthesis
- Cell membranes are composed of phospholipids, glycoproteins and cholesterols – these cholesterols are essential for cell-to-cell communication throughout the body
- Cholesterol is found in every cell membrane in the body as is a major necessity for our brain (nearly 25% of your total cholesterol is found in the brain!)
- Along with calcium and collagen, cholesterol plays a role in patching up damaged tissue
- Cholesterol helps to maintain the integrity of the myelin sheath – an integral component of our central nervous system
Cholesterol production is not just a result of the foods that we eat. The liver and intestines actually produce about 70-80% of our total cholesterol, with our diet only contributing about 20-30% of our cholesterol. With the Standard American Diet (appropriately abbreviated as the SAD diet), we consume a disproportionately large amount of cholesterol from our foods which over time increases our cholesterol to higher than appropriate amounts, throwing off our delicate balance.
The three key aspects to dealing with high cholesterol using nutrition include increasing healthy fats, fiber and plant sterols, supporting optimal digestion and absorption, and supporting the liver.
Here’s how we can stabilize high cholesterol utilizing herbal therapies and nutrition techniques:
- Increasing Healthy fats:
Not all fat = cholesterol fats. Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) for instance are essential to eat in our diet because our body does not produce them, and these healthy fats help to maintain the balance between HDL (bad cholesterol) and LDL (good cholesterol). Nutritional sources of healthy fats include fish and fish oils (salmon and cod especially), avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds (hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, cashews) and high quality dairy products. Consuming healthy fats daily (omega-3 fatty acids in particular) has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels over time while also supplying whole body anti-inflammatory support.
- Support digestion with extra fiber and slippery elm
Along with increasing healthy essential fatty acids in the diet, special attention should be given to increasing fiber sources as well. By increasing phytosterols and fiber, you will decrease binding sites for cholesterol.The slower your food is passing through the bowels, the more cholesterols are being absorbed. If you speed up the flow of food with extra fiber, there is less time and opportunity for the body to absorb more cholesterol. Regular bowel movements (at least once daily) is ideal for a healthy digestion. Increasing fiber rich foods help this process. High fiber foods include split peas, lentils, black beans, avocado, edamame, raspberries, whole wheat pastas, blackberries, pearled barley, artichoke hearts, pears, broccoli, chia seeds, oatmeal, apples, brussel sprouts, flax seeds, brown rice and almonds. Also, slippery elm is a wonderful addition to your daily diet as this helps to coat and soothe the lining of the digestive tissues (especially the intestines and colon) so that your foods continue to move through at a steady rate. Just 1 teaspoon a day of slippery elm powder works well.
- Support the liver
With anti-inflammatory foods. Since the liver is a major site of cholesterol production, we need to make sure the liver is healthy and going through both phases of liver detox efficiently. The best way to support your liver detoxification processes is with the foods that you eat every day. Colorful, nutrient rich and simple foods are ideal, with a focus on brightly colored fruits and vegetables and lots of water. Anti-inflammatory foods such as turmeric, black pepper, green leafy vegetables, olive oil (all of the EFA’s are great anti-inflammatories!), blueberries, beets, broccoli, salmon, coconut oil, and chard are excellent foods for liver support, and the more variety you can get in your daily diet the better!
Stress also plays a role in high cholesterol (because we know stress contributes to everything!).
When the body is under stress, we produce more cholesterol because the liver is told to make more cholesterol for cortisol production. This is often why we see high cholesterol and high blood pressure go hand in hand. Along with a healthy diet, we also need to be mindful of how much stress we choose to take on, and especially how we respond to the stressors that we allow in.
Prevention is the first step in maintaining good health.
It has been consistently agreed upon that high cholesterol can lead to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease. With some basic foundational changes in diet and lifestyle, these risks are drastically reduced. If you need support developing a nutrition plan that is specific for high cholesterol or metabolic syndrome, consider making an appointment with our nutritionist, Lindsay Kluge, for an individualized approach that’s tailored to your dietary needs.
About the Author:
Lindsay Kluge is a Clinical Herbalist & Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist and received her Masters of Science degree in Herbal Medicine from the Maryland University of Integrative Health in 2012. She has been with Richmond Natural Medicine since 2013, and specializes in therapeutic holistic nutrition, circadian rhythm balance and sleep physiology, digestion, and Ayurvedic nutrition. She offers individualized nutrition and herbal medicine consultations that include meal planning support, custom compounded herbal formulas, nutrition guidance and general wellness support. Learn more about services that Lindsay offers at Richmond Natural Medicine by clicking HERE.