The Truth About Cholesterol + 4 Ways to Lower Cholesterol Naturally
Cholesterol is essential to human life, but it’s built up a pretty negative reputation. And with so much conflicting information out there, it’s difficult to sort fact from fiction.
There are tons of ways you can improve your cholesterol levels naturally, and in this article you’ll learn why that’s important, and which type of cholesterol you should actually be concerned with.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a lipid, or fat, that you’ll find in every cell in your body. It’s an essential component in each cell membrane, and helps make vitamin D, hormones, and plays a role in digesting food.
Your body makes about 75% of the cholesterol your body needs, while approximately 25% comes from dietary sources of fat (1).
Cholesterol makes up a little less than half of the fat in each cell membrane, and although your brain is only 2% of your body weight, it contains up to 20% of your body’s cholesterol (2).
So why does cholesterol have such a bad reputation, and should we be worried about keeping cholesterol levels low?
Healthy Cholesterol Levels
Starting in your 20s, you should aim to get your cholesterol levels measured once every 5 years. There are several different markers that your integrative doctor will discuss with you concerning your cholesterol levels, but the basic measurements are:
Total cholesterol, which should ideally be under 200. If your total cholesterol is over 200, this is considered ‘high’ and you’ll want to pay special attention to the ratios of the type of cholesterol that make up this number (3).
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – Optimal HDL is 60 or above. For men, HDL is considered low if below 40, and for women, below 50. Genera
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) should optimally be 100-129, and under 100 if you’re already at risk for heart disease.
Triglycerides should be below 150, with an optimal range being about 100. One significant risk factor for heart disease is your ratio of triglycerides to HDL.
If triglycerides are high, and HDL is low, you’ll want to consult your integrative medicine doctor to determine which functional treatments, diet & lifestyle changes can improve your cholesterol levels.
Is High Cholesterol Dangerous?
Although cholesterol is vital to essential functions in your body, excess cholesterol can build up in your arteries, forming a fatty plaque, which can contribute to something called atherosclerosis, and an increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
So just what causes high cholesterol? The answer goes way beyond the foods you eat.
Cholesterol is normally kept in balance by having a healthy lipid metabolism. A diet high in hydrogenated oils, refined carbohydrates, and sugar can disrupt your lipid metabolism and place stress on your liver, which plays a major role in healthy fat metabolism.
Forcing the liver to metabolize a high amount of unhealthy foods can result in the buildup of triglycerides, contributing to unhealthy cholesterol levels.
Good vs. Bad cholesterol
Not all types of cholesterol are created equally. Depending on their function, we refer to LDL as ‘bad’ cholesterol and HDL as ‘good’ cholesterol. The reasons behind this are a little more nuanced, but this basically means that because of the size and function of an LDL particle, it is more likely to cause damage to your arteries.
HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol circulates through the bloodstream picking up damaging particles of other cholesterol.
So how can we keep our HDL levels optimal, and total cholesterol healthy? Fortunately, there are tons of things you can do to improve your cholesterol, and we’ll start with the most important.
5 Ways to Lower Cholesterol Naturally
It’s not necessary to follow a very low cholesterol diet to improve your overall cholesterol. Instead, work on the following to promote healthy cholesterol levels. Your CentreSpringMD provider can help you achieve the following, plus provide even more guidance toward healthy cholesterol levels.
1. Eat more vegetables and fiber.
Vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber that promote heart health and overall wellbeing. In studies, higher vegetable intake is associated with an array of improved health outcomes. Intake of about 25 grams of fiber per day is linked to lower weight, lower cholesterol, blood sugar, as well as reduced risk of developing heart disease and diabetes (4).
2. Get regular exercise.
Regular exercise is a long-standing marker of better health as well as healthy cholesterol levels. Strength training, resistance exercise, or endurance can promote healthy HDL levels, while reducing total cholesterol and triglycerides (5).
What type of exercise you do depends on your fitness level and physical capabilities, but studies agree–the best type of exercise is the one that works for you.
3. Stress less and sleep more.
Does stress affect your cholesterol levels? You bet. Prolonged stress creates a cascade of hormone imbalance issues, blood sugar problems, and oxidative damage which, together, create the perfect storm for poor cardiovascular health (6).
Stress contributes to every single risk factor for unhealthy cholesterol, and inadequate sleep only further fuels this fire.
4. Avoid These Foods for Healthy Cholesterol:
- Trans fats – Foods that are made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats, which decrease HDL cholesterol and increase triglycerides. Trans fats also contribute to atherosclerosis, which is the hardening of arteries due to plaque buildup (7).
Replace all trans fats with healthy sources like fish, grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, butter, avocado, coconut, nuts & seeds, and olive oil.
- Added Sugar & Refined Carbohydrates – One of the biggest detriments to healthy cholesterol is imbalanced blood sugar. The top offenders for this are high amounts of sugar and refined carbs, which are converted to sugar in the bloodstream.
- Alcohol to Excess – More than one drink per day for women, and two for men can have detrimental effects on cholesterol, inflammation levels, and heart health.
Supplements for Healthy Cholesterol
For blood sugar balance solutions, consider berberine, which upregulates an enzyme called AMPK, providing benefits similar to exercise, promoting normal blood sugar and healthy LDL levels (8).
This coenzyme helps the cells around your heart make and use energy, in addition to functioning as a powerful antioxidant.
CoQ10 is an essential part of cardiovascular health, though production declines with age.
Red Yeast Rice
In meta-analysis, red yeast rice has been shown to lower LDL and total cholesterol (9). If you plan to begin supplementing with red yeast rice, make sure to discuss this with your functional medicine doctor first.
Functional Medicine For Healthy Cholesterol
All the above measures are effective in promoting healthy cholesterol levels, although they’re more beneficial when combined with holistic diet and lifestyle changes to maximize effectiveness.
For example, the heart-healthy benefits of a diet low in refined sugars is most effective when paired with exercise, stress reduction, and the right supplements.
Making an appointment with a CentreSpringMD provider is simple and easy. Don’t wait to optimize your cholesterol for better heart health.