Natural Remedies for Cholesterol – Are They Proven?
Although health practitioners recommend lifestyle changes such as consuming a balanced diet and exercising as the first line of defense against high cholesterol, there is a choice of medication to control the problem.
The choice of medication for lowering cholesterol levels includes:
- Statins, viz., atorvastatin (Lipitor), lovastatin (Altoprev, Mevacor), simvastatin (Zocor), etc., that block the substance the liver needs to make cholesterol.
- Bile acid binding resins such as cholestyramine (Prevalite) that lower cholesterol by binding to bile acids needed for digestion and eliminate it from the body through feces. This prompts the liver to use excess cholesterol to make more bile acids.
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors such as ezetimibe (Zetia) that limit absorption of dietary cholesterol by the small intestine, thus reducing blood cholesterol.
- Combination drug, viz., ezetimibe-simvastatin (Vytorin) that decreases absorption of dietary cholesterol by the small intestine and reduces production of cholesterol in the liver.
- Fibrates, Niacin and Omega-3 fatty acid supplements that decrease high triglyceride levels.
A closer look will reveal that the natural remedy red rice yeast too contains substances that act in the same way as statins. However, reports from Mayo Clinic mark some brands of red yeast rice containing lovastatin as unsafe since they believe there’s no way to determine the quantity or quality of the lovastatin in the supplement. On the other hand, Dr Andrew Weil opines that since ‘red rice yeast extract delivers a mix of naturally occurring statins rather than a single type of molecule, it is much less likely to cause the side effects that sometimes occur with the pharmaceutical versions’. However, the supplement (for that matter even the drug) has to be taken indefinitely. Moreover, statins inhibit the body’s natural synthesis of CoQ10, so it is necessary to take 90 to 120 mg of CoQ10 everyday, along with the supplement or the drug.
Another supplement lecithin, found in soybean and egg yolk, and used as a natural remedy for high cholesterol has no takers in the evidence-based scientific community. Here Dr Weil says, ‘Claims that lecithin can lower cholesterol are based on the fact that it contains polyunsaturated fatty acids. But, again, I've seen no evidence to support this. I recommend lecithin only to patients with multiple sclerosis as a way of strengthening nerve sheaths, which are the targets of that disease and are composed of myelin, a derivative of lecithin’.
Similarly, there is no documented evidence on garlic, a popular ayurvedic remedy for high cholesterol, regarding its influence on serum lipoproteins. Dr Michael Richman from The Center for Cholesterol Management believes that although garlic does have cardiovascular effects since ‘it inhibits platelet clumping in the blood and increases bleeding risks when taken with clopidogrel (Plavix), warfarin (Coumadin), and aspirin’.
Evening primrose oil is yet another natural remedy for cholesterol which has not been regulated or investigated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Some believe that this remedy may be harmful if taken for more than a few months, so taking frequent breaks from evening primrose oil treatment is suggested.
However, there is no contradiction as far as dietary soluble fibers are concerned, regarding lowering of high cholesterol. Both schools agree that soluble fiber in the form of dried beans, certain fruits and vegetables, psyllium, and especially oats and oat bran have demonstrated positive results in lowering LDL cholesterol. The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine gives the following daily recommendations on dietary soluble fibers for adults:
- Men – 50 years and younger – 38 g
- Men – 51 years and older – 30 g
- Women – 50 years and younger – 25 g
- Women – 51 years and older – 21 g
In the end, an integrative program that combines natural remedies, healthy dietary habits, and regular exercise is the most successful treatment for controlling cholesterol if it is not too high. But if all these measures fail, it is necessary to get professional help and go for conventional treatment of high cholesterol.
- American Heart Association News - (http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=183)
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