If you are reading this article, then you already know that high cholesterol can lead to serious health issues – you may have already been told that you need to lower your cholesterol or risk developing a life-threatening illness. In order to understand how to lower the level of cholesterol in your body, it is helpful to know what it is, how it functions, and how certain nutrients affect it.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty compound known as a lipid which is produced in the liver; we also consume cholesterol in some of the foods that we eat. A certain amount is necessary for proper cell function; various hormones, vitamin D, and the bile acids needed to digest dietary fat are all manufactured using cholesterol.
But a small amount of cholesterol is sufficient for the body’s needs. Too much can cause a buildup of a thick, hard substance known as plaque on the walls of the arteries, interfering with blood flow and preventing sufficient oxygen from reaching the heart.
Good vs Bad Cholesterol
Cholesterol travels through the blood attached to a protein as a sort of package known as a lipoprotein. Depending on the amount of protein in proportion to the fatty acid, lipoproteins are classified as high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or low-density lipoproteins (LDL).
HDLs contain a higher percentage of protein; these are often referred to as “good” cholesterol, because they are useful for reducing the levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood. HDL cholesterol comes from unsaturated fats such as those found in avocados, olives, seeds, nuts, vegetable oils, and fish.
LDLs contain a higher percentage of fatty acids and are commonly known as “bad” cholesterol. LDLs are the cholesterol that forms the plaque buildup on the artery walls, restricting blood flow to the heart and eventually causing heart disease or heart attack. LDLs are increased in the body by the consumption of saturated fats, including red meat, organ meats, whole milk, cheese, butter and cream.
Nutrients and Dietary Supplements that Lower Cholesterol Levels
In order to lower your cholesterol, it is best to avoid saturated fats as much as possible. Unsaturated fats, consumed in moderation, are part of a healthy diet. In addition, certain nutrients are useful for lowering cholesterol levels. The following supplements have been shown to reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol, and in some cases, even raise levels of good (HDL) cholesterol:
• Fiber – The soluble fiber found in oat bran, dried beans and peas, apples, broccoli, and a variety of other foods can help to remove LDL cholesterol from the body;
• Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Found in fish oils, these compounds are proven to lower blood pressure, reduce triglycerides (another harmful type of fat) in the body, and prevent heart disease;
• Soy – There is a great deal of evidence that suggests eating soy rather than animal protein reduces the amount of LDLs found in the blood;
• Beta-sitosterol – This plant sterol has been shown to prevent the absorption of cholesterol by the digestive system;
• Coenzyme Q10 – Studies indicate that CoQ10 deters the formation of blood clots and raises antioxidant levels in the body;
• Policosanol – A natural plant extract, this fatty alcohol is believed to lower LDLs and raise levels of HDLs in the bloodstream;
• Polyphenols – Another type of plant extract found in grapes, berries, tea, wine and beer, these are known antioxidants which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.