Why do we need to lower our cholesterol? Because high levels may raise heart disease risk, the number one cause of death in the U.S. Higher buildup of cholesterol in our blood appears to be linked to higher atherosclerosis in our coronary arteries. Cholesterol crystallization may be what causes atherosclerotic plaque rupture, the trigger for heart attacks. Regardless of total cholesterol level, LDL (low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol may be a risk factor for heart attacks.
Data suggests that cholesterol levels can never be too low. The average U.S. blood cholesterol level is so high that a large part of the “normal population” is at high risk of coronary heart disease. The safe level for total cholesterol is likely 150 or lower; the optimal LDL level may be 50-70.
High cholesterol may be linked to increased risk of:
- Abdominal aortic aneurism
- Adverse skin effects
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Breast cancer
- Declining kidney function
- DNA damage
- Lower back pain
- Sexual dysfunction
- Type 2 diabetes
The American diet is so high in cholesterol-raising foods that even children may show signs of atherosclerosis. Rare genetic conditions can give people high cholesterol no matter what they eat, but for most people, poor dietary choices seem to be the main culprit behind their high cholesterol.
Low carb diets seem to significantly raise “bad” cholesterol levels. For Americans, food prepared at home may have less cholesterol than food eaten at fast-food and sit-down restaurants. Eliminating saturated fat and dietary cholesterol can greatly lower cholesterol levels in the blood.
A person trying to reduce cholesterol may want to be cautious of consuming meat, dairy products, chicken, and eggs. Switching from beef to chicken or fish may not lower cholesterol. Eggs may be one of the top sources of cholesterol, with just half an egg going over the safety limit.
Coconut oil and non-filtered coffee may raise cholesterol levels, although olive oil and nut consumption does not seem to have an effect. Red yeast rice is not recommended, as the lovastatin dosing in it is unreliable.
Specific foods linked to lower cholesterol include:
- Acai berries
- Amla or Indian gooseberries
- Apples and dried apples
- Ceylon cinnamon
- Defatted coconut flakes
- Green and hibiscus tea
- Legumes, including beans
- Nuts, specifically Brazil nuts, walnuts, and almonds
- Seeds including sesame seeds, pistachio nuts, flaxseeds
- Water with baking soda
- Whole barley, whole oats
Dr. Dean Ornish, the late Dr. Walter Kempner, and the director of the Framingham Heart Study have all promoted plant-based diets for their heart-healthy benefits. Many doctors may not be aware of this essential life-saving information, although this may be changing.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as statins, appear to be far less effective than generally assumed and may have side effects such as increased breast cancer risk. Diet and/or lifestyle changes may be as effective as statins.
Image credit: Oregon State University / Flickr. This image has been modified.
Topic summary contributed by Linda
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