Supplementing Good & Bad: Cholesterol Explained

By Emily Stewart. Published on August 16th, 2017

In today’s health-conscious world many people are aware that they have “high cholesterol.” But do they really understand what that term means? Cholesterol actually comes in three forms. If cholesterol isn’t properly managed, it can lead to heart disease. Prescription medication serves well in cholesterol management, with side-effects. On the other hand, some dietary supplements have a positive effect. Here’s what you need to know about cholesterol, including supplements that assist in a cholesterol-management regime.

Cholesterol supplements
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash.

Testing cholesterol levels

Begin receiving regular cholesterol blood tests around the age of 20. Cholesterol tests measure your body’s lipid profile. That is, the total value of the different types of cholesterol that exist in the body. These are LDL, HDL, and Triglycerides. Test results show your unique lipoprotein profile.

Limitations to testing

While testing one’s total cholesterol is the first step to safeguarding against later heart problems, there are many more factors that contribute to one’s risk of heart disease and other cholesterol-related complications. Lifestyle factors like smoking, genetics, diet, exercise levels, weight, age, and stress are all connected to one’s heart health. A savvy medical professional will use the results of the lipoprotein profile with an analysis of your holistic health to determine real risks.

Cholesterol types

When most people bemoan their “high cholesterol,” this term is actually an inaccurate descriptor of the relationship of fats in the body. In fact, lipoprotein profiles measure three kinds of cholesterol. One of the levels is actually best when high. Here’s an overview.

LDL: Low-density lipoprotein is often called “bad” cholesterol. This is the cholesterol that causes fatty plaque to build-up in the artery walls. Heart disease is caused in part by regular restriction of blood flow to the heart. If a lipoprotein profile results in a LDL level of over 190, you’ve got right to worry.

HDL: As a sort of compliment to LDL, high-density lipoprotein is popularly known as “good” protein. HDL actually rides within the bloodstream seeking LDL. When found, LDL is removed from the artery walls.

Cholesterol LDL vs HDL
Cholesterol, the struggle: LDL vs HDL

Triglycerides

While most people know about LDL and HDL cholesterol, they forget the influence of triglycerides. Triglycerides are directly related to your food intake: excess calories, alcohol, and sugar are converted by the liver into cholesterol. The scariest aspect of triglycerides is that they are stored in fat cells that line organs. While visceral fat can be seen by the naked eye (cellulite), triglycerides hide underneath the surface. Even a thin person can be chock-full of this harmful fat. If your lipoprotein profile reveals triglyceride levels above 200, you’ve reason for worry.

Statins versus supplements

When issues in cholesterol are detected by doctors, they most often recommend their patients take statins. Statins are a medication that decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL. The primary way they work is by lowering the cholesterol produced in the liver. Research shows statins typically decrease LDL cholesterol by 23%, while non statin cholesterol therapies like supplements and exercise can decrease LDL by as many as 25%. Statins pose a few potential problems. First, many doctors simply recommend statins without taking a patient’s whole health into consideration. Second, statins (like all prescription drugs) carry intense potential side-effects. Statin fallout includes muscle pain; increased enzymes in the liver; asthma; and pregnancy complications.

Many doctors are using supplements and statins together as a way to combat cholesterol. When paired, a patient takes less statins and still does not have to depend completely on supplements. It’s the best of both worlds (or both cholesterol types…)

Supplements

While dietary supplements come in many forms, they all serve the same purpose: filling nutritional voids in the normal diet. Supplements may be natural or chemical; examples include vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, concentrates, metabolites, constituents, and extracts. The actual means for consumption of the supplements is also varied: they may be administered by tablets, gelcaps, liquids, or powders. Like any investigation, it’s best to test one supplement at a time to see if it has any effect on your cholesterol levels. Some supplements carry side-effects, so it is best to speak to a certified professional. Below is a list of the most accepted cholesterol-fighting supplements.

Niacin: Niacin is a B vitamin that lowers LDL and triglycerides while boosting HDL levels. It is also called B3. If supplements are impossible to find, niacin exists naturally in turkey, avocado, and peanuts.

Sterols or stanols: These plant compounds interfere with the body’s absorption of cholesterol. The easiest way to access sterols is via fortified foods. Unfortunately, this supplement only lowers LDL (other supplements also increase HDL). At least 800 milligrams are required for an effective sterol-based supplement regime.

Red Yeast Rice Extract: Asian nations originally created the process for fermenting red yeast on rice. The outcome is Monacolin K, which lowers cholesterol production in the liver. It is recommended to take 1,200 milligrams twice delay for a noticeable effect.

Soluble Fiber Supplements: While you can easily intake a healthy level of soluble fibers in the forms of produce and grains, psyllium is a supplement that aids in lowering cholesterol. Psyllium can often be found in laxatives. Another soluble fiber supplement is beta glucan, which is most often found in oats and barley. The recommendation is 3-6 grams daily of both.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: While widely regarded as being a major contributor to lowering cholesterol, this supplement doesn’t raise HDL. It only lowers LDL and triglycerides. So, pair this supplement with a healthy exercise regime, which is the most effective way to boost HDL. Plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids are best: walnuts, almonds, ground flaxseeds.

Whey Protein: As on of the more recent contenders on the cholesterol-lowering field, whey protein has been found to lower total cholesterol levels. Since triglycerides come from obtuse sugars in the body, look for a whey protein supplement that contains little added sugars (especially if using a protein powder as your supplement).

Lifestyle changes: the ultimate supplement

Cholesterol LDL vs HDL
Cholesterol-friendly foods.

Combating high cholesterol levels is not a simple job. No supplement, medicine, or visit to the gym will solve cholesterol issues. Everything about one’s lifestyle, from what they eat to how much rest they get, has an impact. Adding smart supplements to an overall lifestyle change is the only way to add space to your arteries and years on your life.

Emily Stewart calls herself a “Pi-Fit-Yogi,” teaching yoga, Pilates, and blended classes all around the world. You can reach her at ahumandoing.org.

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