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Alternative Cholesterol Treatments

by Dr. Gordon Chang

Cholesterol is a vital nutrient for healthy body function. Cholesterol is used by the body in the manufacture of hormones testosterone, estrogen, progesterone to name a few. This list is by no means complete. It is also used in the myelin sheath formation (covering for nerves). The liver makes approximately 90 percent of the body's daily cholesterol requirement. The remaining 10 percent is obtained from dietary sources.

Cholesterol is usually transported around the body in the blood bound to different proteins. Depending on the type of protein it called HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) or LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein). High LDL, in conjunction with a low HDL has been associated with atherosclerotic plaque formation and hence has been linked to heart disease. Atherosclerotic plaque formation on the arterial walls causes hardening and narrowing of the arteries which can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Since the body requires approximately 10% of its daily cholesterol requirements from dietary sources, a treatment strategy for high cholesterol has been to control the intake of cholesterol. Cholesterol is found in all animal products but some animal products (e.g. egg yolks and red meats), are higher in cholesterol than others (e.g. fish, and chicken breast) therefore by changing you dietary habits, even slightly, you can decrease your intake of cholesterol. Increasing your intake of fiber has also been shown to decrease blood cholesterol. Fiber is known to bind dietary fat and cholesterol in the gut and thus inhibit their absorption by the body. Increasing your intake of green leafy vegetables and increasing your level of exercise has been shown to have dramatic effects on blood pressure and blood cholesterols. People who exercise have been found to have higher levels of HDL and lower levels of LDL as well as lower levels of total blood cholesterols.

There are several naturally occurring substances that have been shown to significantly decrease blood cholesterols. Some of these include Guggul, niacin, garlic, policosanol, and plant sterols.

Guggul (guggulipids) is an extract of an Indian herb, Commiphora mukul. Guggul extract has been shown in several clinical studies to significantly decrease total blood cholesterol levels as well as LDL levels. Results were seen within 4 to 12 weeks. More importantly there were no side effects when the standardized extract was used.

Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, has been long know to be as effective as many prescribed drugs used in the treatment of high cholesterol levels. However, there is a problem with straight niacin. If used at a high enough dosage to reduce cholesterol, there is a very real statistical chance of causing damage to the liver in addition to the well known effect of skin flushing. These side effects make niacin unacceptable as a cholesterol lowering supplement. Fortunately, Inositol Hexanicotinate, which is chemically similar to niacin, provides the cholesterol lowering benefits of niacin without the risk of liver damage or flushing. In fact long term studies indicate that Inisotol Hexanicotinate is free of any serious side effects other than the occasional individual suffering from mild gastrointestinal upset.

Policosanol is a mixture of long chain aliphatic alcohols. It was originally extracted from sugar cane waxes, but it is now available from several other natural sources. Policosanol, in dosages that range from 5-20 mg per day, has been shown to significantly decrease total cholesterol levels by 15-30 percent within 4 weeks. In addition, it also decreases LDL (bad cholesterol) and increases HDL (good cholesterol). There have been no significant side effects reported in human and animal studies.

Garlic is another herb that has shown cholesterol lowering effects, if taken in sufficient quantities. Of course, garlic can also have social effects if taken in sufficient quantities, so many prefer to use other substances to lower their cholesterol.

Plant sterols are also known to significantly decrease cholesterol levels. However, to see this effect individuals have to consume between 4-10 grams of plant sterols. It is believed that plant sterols work to decrease blood cholesterol levels by competing with dietary cholesterol for absorption. By using intelligent supplementation strategies in combination with a well advised diet and an exercise program you may well find that you get a surprising and beneficial response in both the overall level of your cholesterol, as well as a beneficial shift in the ratio of HDL/LDL cholesterol in your blood.

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