Joseph F. McCaffrey MD, FACS


Lower Cholesterol Without Drugs

We’ve all heard thathigh cholesterol can kill us. Most physicians react by reaching for their prescription pads. Drugs to lower cholesterol, especially the statin drugs like Mevacor and Lipitor, are among the most commonly prescribed drugs out there. Unfortunately, like all drugs, they come with side affects. We’d be much better off if we took control of our cholesterol without resorting to drugs.

Fortunately, there are ways to do just that.

The first step is a healthy lifestyle. You already know this, but exercise is part of that.

Exercise has so many benefits – maintaining function, controlling weight, lowering blood pressure, fighting depression, etc. – that if it were a drug, it’d be a blockbuster. Most people look for a pill instead of making healthy choices and taking action. Don’t be like them. Exercise is the best way to raise your HDL (the “good” cholesterol).

Diet is next.

Reduce the saturated fat in your diet and absolutely avoid trans fats. Nutritionists have vilified beef and other red meats because of their saturated fat content. That’s a valid point for most beef, but grass fed beef and bison are a different matter.

That's because in nature, cattle eat grass. Feed them grain, and their meat changes drastically. The total fat increases. Even worse, the ration of omega-6 to omega-3 (the healthy fat associated nowadays with fish) changes from 4:1 to 20:1! And that's not good.

If you’re a meat eater, switch to grass fed beef and bison.

Be sure your diet is high in fiber. Five - ten grams of soluble fiber a day lowers LDL cholesterol by about 5%. Oatmeal is a good source of soluble fiber. Also, soluble fiber supplements are available now (Benefiber is one brand).

As a bonus, these can also be used as a weight loss aid. People who take a serving of soluble fiber in 8 oz of a calorie-free liquid ½ hour or so before every meal tend to eat less. They lose weight without changing anything else.

After reducing the bad fats, the next step is to increase the good fats. Almonds and walnuts are a good way to do this – they both lower cholesterol. However don’t overdo it. Nuts are very calorie dense – eat too many and you’ll gain weight. A shot glass full a day is enough. Ideally, the saturated fat calories you eliminate from your diet will more than make up for this amount of nuts.

Other good fats are omega 3 fatty acids. These are the fats found in fish, as well as in flax seeds. Adding them to your diet helps lower triglycerides. I recommend using both.

Eat fish such as salmon once a week and take a fish oil supplements daily (2-4 grams a day - more if your doctor recommends it).

Also, grind up 2 tablespoons of flax seed every day and have it on cereal, mixed in yogurt or any other way you enjoy it. Grind it fresh and don’t heat it – the oil spoils readily. I recommend whole flax seed rather than just the oil because of the benefits of the fiber and other nutrients in the whole seed.

Garlic or garlic supplements are another cholesterol-lowering addition to your diet. If using fresh garlic, let it sit for 5 minutes of so after chopping before you cook with it. Heat destroys enzymes activated by chopping that form beneficial compounds in the garlic. If you use a supplement, take 600 – 1,200 mg a day divided into 2 or 3 doses.

Beta-sitosterol and sitostanol both lower cholesterol. They are available as supplements, and also are included in spreads like Take Control or Benecol.

Taken together, these recommendation will not only lower your cholesterol, they’ll contribute to your overall heath and vitality. No statin drug can make that claim.

Finally, if you are taking a statin drug, I believe it’s absolutely mandatory that you supplement with CoQ10. This compound supports cardiac function and statin drugs block its production. Take 100-200 mg a day.

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