I see High cholesterol in my patients often in my NW Calgary Naturopathic Medicine practice, most often in patients 40 and older, but also in patients in their 20s and 30s as well.
So what exactly is cholesterol? Most people associate cholesterol with a negative connotation, but actually our body requires cholesterol to function. Cholesterol is a fat (lipid) that is produced by our body, and is required to produce cell membranes and hormones. This is why low cholesterol is not a good thing for optimal health.
You have probably heard of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein). LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol, because it carries cholesterol to your arteries, where it can be deposited to create plaque. When LDL levels are high, its a concern. Deposition of plaques on the artery walls can cause narrowing of the arteries, and this can increase your risk of heart attack, angina, and stroke.
HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is known as the “good” cholesterol, because it returns cholesterol in the bloodstream and arteries back to the liver to be broken down. Therefore, higher levels of HDL are protective.
Total cholesterol levels in the body are a combination of both LDL and HDL, therefore when looking at your blood test results, a high Total Cholesterol value can be deceiving. If it is high because your LDL is high, it must be addressed, but if it is high because your HDL is high, then it is actually a good thing!
Triglycerides are another value you will see under your cholesterol values. These levels must be addressed when they are elevated as well.
A lot of things are considered in your health history when you present with elevated cholesterol (LDL and Triglycerides) such as your family history of heart attack and stroke, if you are overweight, if you are active or sedentary, if you are a smoker, how healthy your diet is, if you store fat on your abdomen, and so much more. Diet and lifestyle plays a significant role in your cholesterol levels and so there is a lot you can do to normalize your levels. Patients that have high cholesterol genetically have to work a little bit harder to normalize their levels but it can still be done!
From a Naturopathic perspective, there is a lot we can to to treat elevated Cholesterol levels, and as always we want to look at the root cause of the elevated Cholesterol. Your body isn’t trying to punish you by building plaque on your artery walls, but rather is doing it as a protective response. Along with the treatment options below, we always want to address levels of inflammation in the body and oxidative stress in the body (which could create roughness in the artery walls which the body tries to smooth out by covering with plaques, to allow smooth blood flow in the arteries…however too much plaque formation will narrow the arteries). Balanced insulin and blood sugar levels also help maintain optimal cholesterol levels in the body. With these underlying principles, we can use the Naturopathic modalities to treat High Cholesterol in patients of all ages, with or without a genetic component.
So what does Naturopathic Medicine have to offer in the treatment of High Cholesterol? Keep reading!!!
Diet and Nutrition for High Cholesterol
What you eat is probably one of the most significant factors with your cholesterol levels. A diet high in fiber and antioxidants is a great way to lower elevated LDL and triglycerides. A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, the more colorful the better! Think berries (blueberries, raspberries), dark green leafy vegetables…the more colorful the more nutritious. Unroasted, unsalted almonds are a great high fibre snack to combine with your fruits to balance your blood sugar levels. Limiting refined grains, and replacing them with quinoa, sweet potato, and oatmeal will also manage blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels. Every meal and snack should contain protein (lean white meat, nuts, beans). And of course, you know to limit red meat (beef, pork) and avoid fried food as well as full fat dairy, and alcohol. Of course these are things that can be enjoyed occasionally once your cholesterol levels are under control but they do have a significant impact on your cholesterol levels. You can read more about Nutrition here.
Lifestyle for High Cholesterol
Exercise is a great way to manage your weight and your cholesterol levels. It also boosts your cardiovascular health and keeps your heart strong. Cardiovascular exercise is great for this, while yoga and meditation are great for stress management. Stress management overall is vital to successful treatment of elevated cholesterol levels, so whatever your go to for stress management is, ensure it is a regular part of your routine. High levels of stress are usually associated with abdominal weight gain, so this should be addressed. A plan for weight loss may be discussed if it is indicated for the patient.
Vitamins and Supplements
There are a lot of options here for treating patients with High Cholesterol. I always rotate different antioxidants with my patients based on their health history, but I almost always will use fish oils and CoQ10 ( it is very important to speak to your health care provider about if these are right for you and for proper dosing, because they do interact with health conditions and other medications/supplements). CoQ10 is especially important if the patient is on Statins because they will deplete CoQ10 from the body, which can cause side effects such as muscle aches and pains.
According to any other symptoms, I will add supplements for stress management, energy, mood support, digestion, and more. I will sometimes also add supplements for cholesterol directly, depending on the patients cholesterol levels and response to diet and lifestyle changes. You can read more about Supplements here.
Herbs for Cholesterol
Herbs can help a lot in treating cholesterol, and I can choose herbs that are anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, support the liver, heart, circulation, and digestion. Again these herbs are chosen according to the patients health history and to ensure there are no interactions with existing health conditions and medications. You can read more about herbs here.
As you can see, there is so much that Naturopathic Medicine has to offer in the treatment of High Cholesterol. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at my NW Calgary Naturopathic Medicine practice if you have any questions about if it is right for you.
Naturopathic Vitality Acupuncture and Wellness Clinic
205-5403 Crowchild Trail NW, Calgary, AB