Statin medications that doctors use – Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor, Pravachol, Lescol – all are effective at reducing cholesterol but can have side effects like muscle toxicity and pain. Most people prefer not to take medicines if they don’t have to. Some have turned to one of the more popular “natural” treatments for high cholesterol, red yeast rice, but it has the same potential side effects as statins. So if you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol and prefer to try start off with more natural remedies, talk with your doctor about trying some of these first. You should also let your doctor know of any supplements you want to take to ensure they do not interact negatively with any medications you are already on.
Natural or herbal options you can discuss with your doctor include:
1. Remember – food is medicine! There are great foods you can eat more of that can help lower cholesterol. These include walnuts, almonds and other nuts; foods high in omega 3 fatty acids – these include flaxseed or fatty fish like herring, mackerel, salmon and sardines; and olive oil. These foods along with ones high in soluble fiber (see below) can be substituted for foods high in saturated fats and trans-fats. Foods to eat less of, or to eliminate, include meat, full-fat dairy products like whole milk and cheese, and trans fats found in some margarines and store-bought cookies, crackers and cakes and cake mixes. Make sure to read your labels.
2. Eat more Soluble Fiber. Soluble fiber appears to binds with cholesterol in the intestines so that it is eliminated. It can be found as a dietary supplement, such as psyllium powder, or in foods such as oats, barley, rye; peas and beans; fruits like apples, prunes, and berries; and vegetables such as carrots, brussel sprouts, broccoli, yams. Five to 10 grams a day of soluble fiber has been found to decrease LDL cholesterol by approximately 5%. Soluble fiber products often say on the label that they are “heart-healthy”.
3. Niacin or Vitamin B3 is used to lower cholesterol. Specifically, it appears to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. Niacin is available in prescription form and as a dietary supplement. The American Heart Association cautions patients to only use the prescription form of niacin. Because of side effects, niacin should not be used to lower cholesterol unless under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner.
Side effects can include the most common one, skin flushing, as well as increasing the effect of high blood pressure medication, causing nausea, indigestion, gas, diarrhea, gout, worsening peptic ulcers, or triggering gout, liver inflammation, and high blood sugar. Hold on though – better news follows…
4. Studies on Artichoke leaf extract show it may work to lower cholesterol by both decreasing the amount of cholesterol made in the body as well as increasing cholesterol elimination from the body. It has not yet been well studied but preliminary results show minimal side effects and after 1 week of 1800 mg, cholesterol lowering effects lasted up to 6 weeks.
Remember to check back in with your doctor frequently to make sure that the approach you have chosen is helping to get your cholesterol levels where they need to be.
Dr. Clark is author of the new book “Excuse Me Doctor! I’ve Got What? Taking Ownership of Your Health and making Healthcare Reform Work for You” This book was recently selected by Essence Magazine as one of its top picks and is spotlighted as a great read for helping one to keep his/her New Year’s resolution on keeping your body healthy in 2015