Friday, September 2, 2011

10 Non-Drug Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol

Doctor tell you you need to go on a statin or other cholesterol lowering drug and have concerns about side effects and being on a prescription drug for the rest of your life? While the following is not quite as easy as taking a pill every day, the health benefits of following these ten tips will far exceed just lowering your cholesterol and getting your doctor off your case.  Heck, you might even FEEL GOOD too.............
  1. LOSE WEIGHT IF YOU NEED TO 5-10 lbs (even if you have more to lose) will result in a lowering of both cholesterol and blood pressure and increase your sensitivity to insulin (reducing risk of diabetes and helping manage existing diabetes).
  2. EXERCISE (independent of weight loss) will help decrease total cholesterol and increase "good" HDL cholesterol. Cardiovascular exercise (swimming, running, cycling, dancing, walking, elliptical machine, aerobic/cardio classes) are more important for cholesterol than resistance training and flexibility (which both have other benefits so keep doing those too!)
  3. STOP SMOKING IF YOU STILL DO SUCH A STUPID THING It isn't brain surgery that smoking creates a world of health problems, and increasing cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol is one of them. Need a more vain reason? Smoking increases belly fat, believe it or not so one way to a flatter stomach is to give up the cancer sticks.
  4. EAT SOLUBLE ("viscous") FIBER Beans, whole grain oats, barley, nuts, vegetables, and fruits have lots of soluble fiber. Wheat does not, but still choose whole wheat bread as it has other health benefits aside from lowering cholesterol. Oatmeal for breakfast, a daily snack containing nuts (see #8 for the best cholesterol lowering choice) and a serving of legumes (beans) can have a huge cholesterol lowering effect-especially when combined with #5and #6. Psyllium (in products like Metamucil) also has a cholesterol lowering effect as well as helping bowel regularity.
  5. REMOVE ARTIFICIAL TRANS FAT This is old news at this point to anyone who knows a little about nutrition, but manufacturers have gotten wise and found a way to put so-called "trivial amounts" of trans fat in our packaged food.  Thus, one must still look out for "hydrogentated" oils (the type of oil does not matter) in the ingredients to avoid these trivial amounts.  Amounts less than .5 grams do not have to be labeled (it will still say "Trans Fat 0 grams"!)-which just like "trivial" amounts of money-over time adds up to big numbers!
  6. REDUCE SATURATED FAT Animal fat (with the exeption of fish) delivers the most saturated fat to the American diet. Red meat, poultry (skin, dark meat), pork, and dairy (not Skim) have saturated fat.  It's still okay to eat these things but smaller portions are in order.  Keep in mind also that dairy has naturally occuring trans fat, which is another reason to choose low-fat dairy produts like cheese, yogurt, milk, and ice cream. Or if that's too much to ask, eat them less frequently in small portions. Coconuts also have "sat fat" but probably do not have a negative effect on our cholesterol as a "vegetarian" saturated fat. Aim for <20 grams Saturated Fat per day or 15 grams if you are at high risk for cardiovascular disease or already have it.
  7. EAT LESS DIETARY CHOLESTEROL Why is this not at the TOP of the list? Because the other things are more effective. Truth is-if you do #5 and #6, this one will take care of itself since sat fat and cholesterol come in the same foods (unless you eat a lot of eggs and shellfish-these contain little sat fat but lots of cholesterol). Dietary cholesterol has less an affect on your blood cholesterol than most people think, but keep it to less than 300 mg/day or 200 mg/day if you are at high risk for cardiovascular disease or already have it.
  8. EAT MORE OMEGA-3 FATS cold water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel) are full of them and by far the best source-try to eat them 2x per week-researchers think this is enough to have a benefit. For fish haters and vegetarians, SOY, WALNUTS, and CANOLA OIL are great sources from the plant world.  Soy may make your nose scrunch, but there are so many soy products out there now there is undoubtedly one you can stomach, and dare I say "enjoy". Almonds, although tasty and a great source of healthier unsaturated fat and fiber, are not a good source of Omega-3 fats.
  9. EAT MORE MONOUNSATURATED FATS Foods with this type of fat have a beneficial effect on "good" HDL cholesterol and is found in avocados (bring on the guac!), olive, and canola oil (which is also a source of omega-3). REMEMBER, all fats (even healthy ones) have 9 calories per gram which makes it easy to go over your daily energy (calorie) needs if you are eating a lot of fat. That means that you can gain weight which will make you cholesterol go UP! Aim for approximately 60 grams of total fat (saturated and unsaturated) per day too keep your calories in check.
  10. TRY A MARGARINE WITH PLANT STEROLS  Eating Benecol, or another brand of margarine fortified with "plant sterols" (these foods are commonly referred to as "nutriceuticals"), is a safe way to help reduce serum cholesterol. These have been scientifically proven to lower cholesterol (albeit more modestly than statin drugs, which is why you should also do #1-9 to maximize your chances).  These are "taken" like drugs, in that there is a specific "dose" at specific frequencies (1-2 tablespoons per day, for example). But unlike drugs these are natural plant chemicals and have no known side effects, besides lowering your cholesterol! They are also cheaper than drugs so if you don't have a great prescription program and use spreads anyway, they are certainly worth the slightly extra cost to standard margarines.
How long does it take? Not long. In a few short months you can significantly lower your cholesterol with the above methods.  Bad news is that as soon as you stop doing these things is that it will go back up. Good news is, your liver won't have to metabolize a drug for the rest of your life.

I recommend getting a "baseline" from your physician and following up with another test 3 months after you are consistently doing the 10 tips (and have had time to lose weight if necessary). Why so soon? Because then you will keep doing it! It is very easy to forget why you are taking the trouble to change your diet and lifestyle without any direct feedback, and if cholesterol lowering is you goal, you'll need a blood test to get the feedback.  Don't wait a year for your annual physical to come around again or let's face it, you may have reverted back to your old lifefstyle by then!