Cholesterol Regulators

Controlling LDL—the “bad” cholesterol that can clog arteries—
is a key component of a heart-healthy lifestyle. These supplements can help.


February 2010

Cholesterol. Along with blood pressure and glucose (blood sugar), it’s a factor that you have to keep under control for the sake of your cardiovascular system. What’s more, this waxy material seems to have other ominous connections: A recent study found a link between even moderately elevated cholesterol levels at mid-life and dementia risk in old age.

According to the American Heart Association, total cholesterol levels below 200 mg/dL are desirable. Levels of 240 and above are high risk; anything between 200 and 240 represents a borderline risk area. For LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, less than 100 is good, 190 and above is very high risk, and anything in between falls into a pattern of increasing risk (100-129, near optimal; 130-159, borderline high; 160-189, high). Conversely, you want higher levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol—less than 40 for men and 50 for women increases heart disease risk.

Supplement
What it is What it does
Fenugreek A spice common to many Asian cuisines Has been shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes
Garlic An herb used by cooks worldwide
Helps lower blood pressure along with cholesterol and triglycerides, blood fats linked to heart disease
Green Tea With black tea, the planet’s most popular hot beverage Has been shown to lower total cholesterol and raise HDL; may block cholesterol absorption in intestines
Guggul The resin of the mukul myrrh tree in northern India Has lowered total and LDL cholesterol, along with triglycerides, in studies
Milk Thistle European herbalism’s premiere liver herb
Supports the liver, which controls overall cholesterol levels in the body
Niacin (Vitamin B3) A member of the water-soluble B-complex Helps lower LDL and raise HDL; also helps improve poor circulation
Oyster Mushroom A fungus traditionally used for food and medicine Helps reduce fat and sugar levels in the blood; has also shown immune-stimulating properties
Resveratrol A substance found in several red fruits, including grapes Has shown an ability to lower LDL; may also mimic the anti-aging effects of a very-low-calorie diet
Sterols Plant compounds similar to cholesterol in animals Helps slow the absorption of dietary cholesterol, which can lower LDL levels
Tocotrienol A class of nutrients in the vitamin E family
Appears to suppress production of cholesterol within the liver; has also shown anti-cancer properties
Vitamin C The best-known water-based antioxidant Helps the blood vessels dilate, which increases blood flow; has also helped reduce blood pressure

Why Cholesterol Control Is Important

Cholesterol imbalances are harmful because they contribute to atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty plaques within arteries that slow blood flow. LDL can become oxidized, a process similar to the rusting of metal. When it does, it can become stuck in the tissue that lines arterial walls. The presence of LDL in arteries attracts blood cells called platelets, which attempt to make repairs; this process causes inflammation, which in turn further stimulates plaque development. Sometimes the plaque becomes unstable, or prone to rupture. If it ruptures a clot can form at the site, which can lead to a heart attack (in the coronary arteries) or stroke (in arteries feeding the brain). HDL, the “good” form of cholesterol, helps shepherd LDL back to the liver for processing.

While atherosclerosis is best known for its cardiovascular consequences, it can cause symptoms elsewhere in the body—anywhere blood flow is reduced by plaque-laden arteries. Plaque buildup in pelvic arteries can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED) in men and is strongly suspected of causing sexual dysfunction in women. Reduced blood supply in the arms and legs, a condition known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD), can cause numbness, weakness and pain.

Supplements can go a long way to helping you keep your cholesterol levels in the healthy range. But supplementation only works when used as part of an overall healthy lifestyle, which includes:

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