How to Take Charge Of Cholesterol Levels Through Diet and Supplements

Although the scare behind the consumption of fats and cholesterol has declined in recent years, and the research pointing the finger at sugar instead of fat as being the food that is most linked with disease, there is no argument about the fact that excess cholesterol and fats in the diet are still well-known risk factors for heart disease, higher levels of belly (visceral) fat that leads to inflammation and lowered quality of life as well as a shortened lifespan.

Cholesterol is essential for life, so much so that we have an internal pathway that produces cholesterol so that we won’t need to rely on its intake from our diet. This internal mechanism has been in place for eons throughout human evolution when cholesterol rich foods were not so easy to come by. [1] 

Cholesterol is produced in the liver and has some critical functions including keeping the cell membranes flexible, taking part in the production of steroid hormones, in vitamin D production, and bile acid production that helps us digest our food.

We do not need to eat foods that contain any cholesterol. The body will produce all the cholesterol it needs.

Moreover, there are many regulatory mechanisms in place that coordinate the overall level of cholesterol in the body through the amount of cholesterol produced. So when you eat a meal with high cholesterol levels, not on a regular basis, then your body will compensate for this by lowering cholesterol production in the liver. And when you eat too little cholesterol rich foods, your body will naturally make more of it. [2] This regulatory mechanism works wonderfully in situations when high cholesterol foods are taken in from the diet, not regularly; however, this mechanism cannot regulate regular high intakes of cholesterol. Furthermore, the foods rich in cholesterol are also foods rich in trans fats and saturated fats, proven to have adverse effects on health. The Institute of Medicine report recommended that “trans fat consumption be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.” [3]

In the modern world, we tend to consume too many foods that are very high in cholesterol, saturated fats and trans fats which change cholesterol balance leading to detrimental effects on health.

Since cholesterol, a fat-soluble waxy substance, cannot dissolve in water, its presence in high quantities in the blood reduces the amount of oxygen-rich blood that circulates in the body. When reduced levels of oxygen-rich blood reaches the heart; for example, we become more prone to a heart attack, and when too little oxygen-rich blood enters the brain, a stroke will be the result. Too little oxygen-rich blood reaching the kidneys may lead to kidney failure. [4]

Cholesterol balance in the body is also under the control of epigenetic mechanisms which are passed on from our parents or change as a result of faulty lifestyle habits. 

The good news is that there are ways to reduce your cholesterol levels with a change in diet and different lifestyle choices, and by taking specific supplements that help reduce cholesterol in the blood and reverse the damage caused by excess cholesterol and fats in the blood.

Not all fats are equal

Due to previous bad dietary advice, many people still assume that all fats are unhealthy, and they try to avoid them. However, the truth is that certain fats are very healthy and even essential to life, whereas others are not. Unsaturated fats, including both mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats, are most beneficial to health. A diet that includes certain unsaturated fats is much better than a diet based on having as little fats as possible.

In healthy individuals, about 30% of blood cholesterol, along with other fats, is carried by High-density lipoprotein (HDL).[3] 

Lipoproteins are required to transport fat molecules around the body within the blood because they are fat soluble and cannot otherwise move in the water-soluble blood. They typically carry hundreds of fat molecules around the body.

HDL particles remove cholesterol from cells, including from artery walls, and move them to the liver for removal from the body or re-utilization. [5] [6] 

This is often contrasted with the amount of cholesterol estimated to be carried within low-density lipoprotein particles (LDL). LDL moves fats and cholesterol LDL to the cells.

Therefore, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is beneficial for health while high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) will leads to the health risks involved in high cholesterol diets and cholesterol-induced health issues.

The cholesterol inside these lipoproteins is the same in both HDL and LDL carriers, but their destination makes all the difference. 

Unsaturated fats from the diet, especially monounsaturated fats raise HDL levels and help remove excess cholesterol from the arteries and the blood, whereas LDL takes the cholesterol to the cells where it can oxidize within the artery walls leading to atherosclerosis. [7] [8] Monounsaturated fats are found in olives, olive oil, avocados, almonds, walnuts, cashews, and a few other types of tree nuts. 

Polyunsaturated fats are also beneficial. Here you should mostly focus on omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have many health benefits and help reduce inflammation. In general, omega 3 polyunsaturated fats have many health benefits including lowering LDL levels and decreasing your risk of heart disease. [7] [8]

Omega-3 fats can be taken in plant-based supplement form but are also found in chia and flax seeds as well as tree nuts especially walnuts.

Saturated fats, trans fats, and excessive amounts of dietary cholesterol raise LDL levels and lead to heart disease and increased inflammation in the body. These fats are found in meat, butter, full-fat dairy products, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. These will raise your total cholesterol levels. Studies show that just by decreasing your consumption of these unhealthy fats to less than 7% of your daily food consumption, you will lower LDL cholesterol levels by 8 – 10%. A 1% decrease in energy intake from saturated fat decreases plasma cholesterol 3 mg/dL. [9]

Alcohol

Scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) analyzed human and mouse epigenome and found that drinking alcohol could lead to epigenetic changes that influence the bodies ability to regulate cholesterol. Although previous studies found that low levels of red wine are protective against heart disease due to their high antioxidant activity, since alcohol is metabolized by the liver and can cause liver damage if used in large amounts it will have a negative effect cholesterol regulation.

Fiber

Soluble fiber is very beneficial at lowering cholesterol levels as it reduces the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. But not only that, high levels of fiber in the diet are essential for the livelihood of a healthy microbiome. The good bacteria living in your intestines can digest this fiber which our bodies can’t, and these bacteria subsequently reduce the levels of cholesterol and lower risk of disease. [10] [11] [12] Sources rich in fiber include plants like beans, peas, lentils, fruit, Brussels sprouts, and whole grains.

Aim for 10 grams or more of soluble fiber per day to decrease your LDL levels. [13]

Supplements 

Coenzyme Q10  – common in animals and most bacteria, it helps cells produce energy and is found in the body in regular amounts. However, additional Q10 has shown to help reduce the total amount of cholesterol in the body. [14] Coenzyme Q10 can be taken in the form of supplements or can be consumed through foods that are rich in this coenzyme including spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries, oranges, soybeans, lentils, and peanuts.

Artichoke leaf extract – A study showed that participants who took an artichoke supplement for six weeks saw their levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), fall by 18.5%, compared to just 8.6% in the placebo group.

Garlic – 4 meta-analyses and 2 original studies have shown that garlic supplementation reduces blood pressure. Another 8 meta-analyses showed that garlic reduces total cholesterol. The most consistent benefits were shown in studies that used aged garlic extract. Aged garlic extract also reduces inflammation. [15] 

Niacin – or vitamin B3 has shown to positively affect high LDL cholesterol, high non-HDL cholesterol, high levels of triglycerides, and reduced HDL levels. Vitamin B3 has also been proven to have anti-inflammatory and anti-atherosclerotic effects.[16]

But taking excessive amounts of this vitamin regularly will result in side effects such as skin flushing and even to liver damage.

Conclusion

Not all fats are equal. Evidence shows that we need to reduce LDL levels by eliminating foods with harmful fats and taking in those with good fats. Additionally, lowering alcohol consumption and taking different supplements and regular intake of fiber can help you reduce the amounts of overall cholesterol leading to more oxygen-rich blood reaching your organs and supplying them with the critical nutrients they need to thrive.

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References:

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