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Lowering Cholesterol: Effective Alternatives to Medication


One of the most common conditions requiring a prescription today is elevated cholesterol. Heart disease remains the number 1 killer of Americans and reducing serum cholesterol is one strategy for reducing this risk in high risk individuals. Although prescription cholesterol medications are very effective at lowering cholesterol (particularly the bad kind) they can come with undesirable side effects.

The most common cholesterol lowering medications are referred to as the statins. This includes the most well known name is cholesterol, Lipitor. These medications work by inhibiting an important enzyme in the liver that makes cholesterol because 80% of serum cholesterol is produced by our own bodies. Only around 20% comes from the food we eat. In the process of inhibiting the formation of cholesterol, statin medications also inhibit the formation of an important nutrient called CoQ10. This nutrient is fundamental in helping the cells to produce energy and in reducing damage from free radicals. Due to their importance in energy production many people who take statin medications can experience symptoms of muscle cramping and weakness due to this deficiency. Taking supplemental CoQ10 is an important consideration for anyone taking statin medications.

Adequate fiber in the diet is a very important consideration when working to lower cholesterol naturally. Two tablespoons of ground flax seed daily added to cereals, yogurt, oatmeal or smoothies is a great way to bind the cholesterol in the gut and help the body to excrete it.

Certain supplements are also key in helping to lower cholesterol naturally. Policosanol is a natural plant extract derived from the outer bark of sugar cane that has been shown in clinical trials to lower cholesterol levels. More importantly it can improve the HDL (good cholesterol) to LDL (bad cholesterol) ratio which can decrease overall risk factors. Policosanol is very well tolerated and is an excellent place to start for individuals that have only mild to moderate elevations of cholesterol.

Niacin, vitamin B3, has long been used by doctors to lower cholesterol levels. Like Policosanol it also works to improve the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol while lowering overall numbers as well. In therapeutic doses, niacin can cause the "niacin flush" which is a symptom characterized by a temporary sensation of heat flushing in the face and throughout the body. This is not a harmful side effect and is usually well tolerated as long as it is expected. There are several types of non-flush niacin that release more slowly into the system which prevents the flushing effect. The research on non-flush niacin and lowering cholesterol is not as extensive as on its flushing counterpart.

Red yeast rice is a type of yeast that grows on a specific type of Chinese rice. The compound in this yeast is identical to the active compound in statin medications. In fact, the medications were originally derived from this yeast. When given in its natural form as Red Yeast Rice it seems to have less potential for causing the negative side effects (muscle cramps/fatigue, liver damage) associated with the medication counterpart. However, if given in high enough doses to sensitive people I have seen the manifestation of mild muscle pain and cramps. Concomitantly supplementing with CoQ10 usually prevents these problems. Red Yeast Rice is an excellent option for those people who have moderately to severe elevations in cholesterol.

There are many other natural options for lowering cholesterol. Guggul lipid, fish oil, cinnamon, and dandelion are other options and often a combination of the above mentioned strategies are the most effective. All are well tolerated when combined and have virtually no reported interactions with other medications.