High cholesterol getting you down? Try these safe, effective, and proven remedies to lower your numbers - without resorting to drugs.
We need cholesterol to help produce hormones and bile acid, but many of us have too much, which is a heart disease risk. In fact, the George Institute for International Health says lowering the blood cholesterol level of every Australian by 10 percent would save 3,000 lives a year. Here’s how to skip the statin prescription – or at least reduce it – and keep cholesterol in check, naturally.
1. Get your oats
According to CSIRO research, eating oats daily is enough to reduce cholesterol. “The beta glucan soluble fibre that is present naturally in oats binds to cholesterol, and prevents some of it from being absorbed,” says accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, Megan Alsford. “This results in lower cholesterol, particularly the LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol which clogs arteries, plus it also boosts your fibre levels. Fibre binds to cholesterol in your digestive tract, which helps to eliminate it.” Add oats or bircher muesli to your shopping list, plus lentils, walnuts, almonds, barley, brown rice, and quinoa.
2. Start walking
It’s free. It’s easy. You can do it any time. So, why don’t we do it more often? “We recommend that adults are active for at least 30 minutes on all or most days,” says Susan Anderson, National Director – Healthy Weight, Heart Foundation. “Walking cuts your risk of heart disease by as much as half.” Haven’t got time for a walk? Listen up. The Heart Foundation says research shows that people who use public transport spend an average of 47 minutes a day walking or cycling compared just eight minutes for those who drive a car. “So, if you are active getting to and from work you are more likely to reach your daily activity recommendations, even without other exercise” says Anderson. To join or start a free Heart Foundation walking group near you, call 1300 362 787 or visit www.heartfoundation.org.au.
3. Take it easy
If your boss wants you to work late, don’t. A study published in the European Heart Journal found that, compared with people who did not work overtime, those who worked three or more hours longer than a normal seven-hour day had a 60 percent higher risk of heart-related problems. And a Swedish study showed that there was a 33 percent increase in risk of elevated cholesterol seen in women experiencing serious marital stress.
4. Stay connected
Depression and social isolation are just as damaging to your heart as a high-fat diet. “Regularly spending time doing things you love with friends, neighbours or family is a great way to stay in touch with your community, beat the blues, and reduce your risk of heart disease,” says Anderson.
5. Drink (some) red wine
“Red wine, dark chocolate and vitamins C and E are fine as long as they are part of a healthy, balanced diet, not instead of one,” says Alsford. Although red wine does contain antioxidants which fight the free radicals that raise cholesterol levels, the National Heart Foundation recommends that you get your antioxidants elsewhere. “Eat fruit and vegetables, snack on raw nuts, drink tea, and if you drink alcohol, have no more than two standard drinks a day,” says Alsford.
6. Go green
According to a study published in Nutrition Research, foods containing polyphenols prevent heart disease. “Polyphenols are natural antioxidants found in plant foods, like grapes, apples, cocoa, tea and olive oil,” says Alsford.
7. Pick good fats
Omega 3s and 6s have become stars in the nutritional world: not only can they make us smarter, thinner and happier, they also reduce heart disease risk and help lower cholesterol. “The polyunsaturated fats in fish protect against heart disease and reduce the blood’s clotting ability,” says Alsford. Aim for two fish meals per week, take an omega 3 supplement if heart disease runs in your family, add seeds and nuts to your diet, and use polyunsaturated oils, like canola and sunflower.
8. Get out in the sun for at least 30 minutes each day
A study in Panminerva Medica shows that optimal levels of vitamin D are associated with a healthier lipid profile.
9. Laugh yourself silly
In research by Dr Lee Berk, it was found that laughter reduced levels of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol in study participants. Laughter also releases endorphins – the so-called ‘happy hormones’ – relieves pain, and reduces stress levels.
10. Toss trans fats
As if there weren’t already enough reasons to avoid trans fatty acids, found in processed foods and some margarine. Now a study of over 86,000 women, published in the American Heart Journal, has found a link between TFAs and high cholesterol.
11. Be berry good
A study presented to the American Chemical Society suggests that pterostilbene, an antioxidant compound in blueberries, works as well as conventional cholesterol-lowering drugs. As a bonus, it also appears to have potential in reducing triglycerides.
12. Try statin alternatives
Statin drugs slow the production of cholesterol and help the liver remove LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. However, they do have unpleasant side effects, and there are alternatives:
* Niacin Part of the vitamin B group, niacin scoops up LDL cholesterol in your blood and sends it to the liver to get rid of.
* Psyllium This soluble fibre supplement reduces cholesterol absorption in the intestine – taking five to 10 grams a day lowers LDL by five percent.
* Soy Swap dairy for some soy. It’s been found to reduce LDL by 12 percent.
* Artichoke extract This helps reduce hangover symptoms as it increases bile production in the liver. With cholesterol, it also increases the amount excreted.
* Coenzyme Q10 If you do take statins, then add coenzyme Q10 to your daily supplement plan, because statins deplete CoQ10 levels.