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13 Supplements for Cholesterol
There are clear advantages to improving your cholesterol profile with natural supplements. For one, they are associated with fewer side effects than prescription drugs such as statins. Some natural supplements are also very effective cholesterol-lowering agents too. This article discusses the herbs, vitamins and other naturally-occurring compounds that have been proven to help raise “good” cholesterol and lower “bad” cholesterol.
Green tea is prepared from the slightly oxidized leaves of Camellia sinensis. The slight oxidation preserves the bioactive phytochemicals in green tea.
Besides the essential nutrients and minerals found in green tea, it is especially rich in antioxidants.
Green tea antioxidants are known as polyphenols. Catechins are the most abundant polyphenols found in green tea and the most popular of these compounds is EGCG or epigallocatechin gallate.
While these antioxidants can prevent the oxidation of LDL (low-density lipoprotein or “bad”) cholesterol and, therefore, reduce the risks of atherosclerosis and heart disease, green tea catechins can also directly affect blood cholesterol.
Studies have shown that green tea catechins can significantly lower LDL cholesterol and moderately reduce total blood cholesterol levels. In addition, green tea can slightly lower triglyceride levels and slightly raise HDL (high-density lipoprotein or “good”) cholesterol.
More specifically, green tea catechins block the absorption of dietary cholesterol. These catechins inhibit the emulsification and dissolution of cholesterol and, therefore, reduce their absorption in the intestine.
Gum guggul is the gum resin from the mukul myrrh tree (Commiphora wightii). It is a widely used traditional remedy in Ayurveda medicine.
Gum guggul is also known as guggulipid. The active phytochemicals in this remedy are known as guggulsterones, a class of plant steroids.
These compounds are also responsible for the cholesterol-lowering property of gum guggul.
The results of different studies show that gum guggul can lower total cholesterol by 15 – 25% and also lower triglyceride levels by 20 – 30%. In addition, gum guggul can raise HDL cholesterol by 15%.
These excellent results are due to the multiple mechanisms by which gum guggul lowers blood cholesterol. This supplement affects both the absorption and metabolism of cholesterol.
Besides reducing the amount of dietary cholesterol absorbed from the intestines, gum guggul also reduces the production of cholesterol in the liver by inhibiting certain enzymes such as HMG-CoA reductase.
Furthermore, gum guggul speeds up the breakdown of LDL cholesterol in the liver and also inhibits the production of low-density lipoproteins.
Lastly, the antioxidant property of gum guggul is strong enough to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
Garlic or Allium sativa is a member of the onion plant family. Although it is more commonly known as a condiment and seasoning and also for its pungent smell, garlic is one of the widely used natural remedies in traditional medicine.
It is especially known for its sulfur compounds such as allin and allicin. These sulfur compounds are responsible for the awful taste and smell of garlic and they are also the bioactive phytochemicals of garlic.
Studies have shown that the water-soluble fraction of garlic extract, especially allicin and its derivatives, can significantly lower blood cholesterol. On the other hand, allin has no such effect on cholesterol.
Garlic blocks cholesterol synthesis in the liver by inhibiting the enzymes involved.
While it blocks HMG-CoA reductase at low doses, garlic inhibits more enzymes in the mevalonate pathway used to produce sterols such as cholesterol.
Besides lowering blood cholesterol, studies have also confirmed other cardiovascular benefits of garlic.
It can lower blood pressure, reduce blood clot formation and prevent the oxidation of cholesterol.
Turmeric or Curcuma longa is a rhizome belonging in the ginger plant family. Like garlic, it is also commonly known for its culinary uses.
Turmeric powder is also used to impact a deep orange-yellow color to foods. The phytochemical responsible for this color is known as curcumin or the food additive, E100.
Curcumin is also responsible for most of the medicinal benefits of turmeric including its effect on blood cholesterol.
Multiple studies have established that curcumin and its derivatives can lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol levels. Curcumin can also reduce the levels of triglycerides and phospholipids.
To do these, curcumin affects the absorption and metabolism of cholesterol.
Rather than interfere with the synthesis of cholesterol, curcumin increases the uptake of cholesterol into the liver and also speeds up its breakdown.
By removing cholesterol from the blood, turmeric lowers blood cholesterol levels. By quickly breaking cholesterol down in the liver, turmeric also lowers hepatic cholesterol levels.
Lastly, studies show that only a small concentration of curcumin is required to lower blood cholesterol. This concentration can easily be reached by adding turmeric to your diet. Furthermore, researchers found out that cooking does not diminish the cholesterol-lowering benefits of turmeric.
Artichoke or Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus is a vegetable with a high nutritional value and one of the highest antioxidant capacities among plants.
Besides the obvious advantages of its antioxidant property, artichoke has been shown to increase the secretion and fecal excretion of bile acids along with cholesterol. This means that artichoke blocks the absorption of cholesterol.
In addition, the bioactive phytochemicals in this supplement can inhibit HMG-CoA reductase and, therefore, block the production of cholesterol in the liver.
The cholesterol-lowering properties of artichoke are due to cynaroside and luteolin rather than cynarin, the most popular phytochemical in artichoke.
Flaxseed is also known as linseed. It is known for its high fiber content and this is one of the main constituents of the supplement responsible for the cholesterol-lowering benefit of flaxseed.
Besides dietary fiber, other cholesterol-lowering phytochemicals in flaxseed include lignans and alpha linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid.
Flaxseed fiber binds to dietary cholesterol and prevents digestive enzymes from emulsifying it. Therefore, flaxseed reduces the absorption of cholesterol and promotes its fecal excretion.
Flaxseed lignans have antioxidant and estrogenic properties. While the antioxidant effect of these lignans can prevent the oxidation of non-HDL cholesterol, the mechanism by which their estrogenic properties reduce cholesterol is unknown although proven.
The omega-3 fatty acid in lignan can also lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol.
To lower blood cholesterol with flaxseed, experts recommend taking ground flaxseed instead of whole flax seed. This is because whole flaxseed is harder to breakdown in the gastrointestinal tract.
Red yeast rice is a bright red purple rice fermented in the yeast, Monascus purpurea.
The cholesterol-lowering agents in red yeast rice are known as monacolins. They are structurally similar to statins, the popular class of prescription cholesterol drugs.
The most abundant monacolin in red yeast rice is monacolin K. It is identical to lovastatin.
Besides monacolins, red yeast rice is also rich in plant sterols. Because red yeast rice contains statins, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) closely regulates all red yeast supplements containing appreciable amounts of monacolins.
Red yeast rice lowers blood cholesterol by inhibiting the enzyme, HMG-CoA reductase.
Because monacolins are essentially statins, care should be taken with red yeast rice supplementation because of the serious risks of liver and muscle damage associated with statins.
However, studies have shown that such adverse effects are less frequent and less serious with red yeast rice supplements.
In addition, lower doses of red yeast rice supplements (compared to statin drugs) are required to lower blood cholesterol. This means that there are other phytochemicals in red yeast rice that contribute to its cholesterol-lowering effects.
Policosanol is a mixture of long-chain alcohols obtained from the waxes of plants such as sugarcane or yams. It is also extracted from beeswax.
The chief constituent of policosanol is octacosanol and it makes up 60% of the mixture.
Policosanol is particularly well studied in Cuba where it is widely sold as a remedy for a long list of ailments.
Studies show that policosanol can significantly lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. It also raises HDL cholesterol levels but has no effect on triglycerides.
While policosanol acts on the mevalonate pathway and interferes with cholesterol synthesis, it does not directly inhibit the enzyme, HMG-CoA reductase. Instead, it reduces the activity of the enzyme.
Furthermore, policosanol also lowers blood cholesterol by blocking the reabsorption of bile acids. This leads to increased fecal excretion of bile acids along with dietary cholesterol. Therefore, policosanol blocks the absorption of cholesterol.
Sterols and stanols are collectively known as phytosterols. They are both derived from plants and are structurally similar (stanols are simply saturated sterols).
Both sterols and stanols are commonly found in vegetables, nuts, fruits, seeds, cereals and legumes.
Both sterols and stanols are structurally similar to cholesterol. Therefore, they compete with dietary cholesterol for absorption. This is the chief mechanism by which phytosterols lower blood cholesterol.
However, stanols are safer than sterols. This is because sterols can be absorbed into systemic circulation while stanols are only minimally absorbed.
Because phytosterols are structurally similar to cholesterol, the body can use them as substitutes for cholesterol. Therefore, sterols can increase the risk of coronary heart disease especially in hypercholesterolemic patients with previous episodes of heart attack.
Another advantage of stanols over sterols is that the former can block the absorption of cholesterol by a second mechanism. Studies show that stanols act on transporter proteins in the intestine to drive back cholesterol just before it crosses into blood.
The most popular phytosterol used in the medicine is beta sitosterol. It is also the most studied.
There is solid clinical evidence to support the use of beta sitosterol for lowering blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Therefore, it is the most commonly recommended phytosterol used in the treatment of heart disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids include EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). They can be found in fish and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines as well as in plants such as walnuts and flaxseed (discussed above).
These fatty acids have been proven to reduce cholesterol synthesis in the liver and also produced sustained reduction in cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Besides lowering cholesterol levels, omega-3 fatty acids can also improve cardiovascular health by other means. They prevent the formation of blood clots, prevent the clogging of arteries by plaque and prevent inflammation in blood vessels.
Omega-3 fatty acids are available as supplements in different forms including fish oil capsules and seed oils.
Inositol is really a carbohydrate naturally synthesized from glucose even though it was once considered a B vitamin. It is abundantly found in the plant kingdom as phytates and lecithin. Of its nine different forms, the most active is myo-inositol.
Myo-inositol is a proven cholesterol-lowering agent and a lipotropic agent.
Besides lowering total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, inositol can also raise HDL cholesterol. In addition, researchers have shown that this carbohydrate can reduce insulin resistance and lower blood pressure.
As a lipotropic agent, inositol keeps fats emulsified and redistributes lipids away from the liver.
This lipotropic property makes inositol effective for reducing the risk of atherosclerosis. In addition, the redistribution of cholesterol away from the liver means that it is not readily released into the blood.
Niacin is also known as vitamin B3. Its active forms are nicotinic acid and nicotinamide. Only nicotinic acid has cholesterol-lowering properties.
To lower blood cholesterol, niacin blocks the breakdown of fats stored in the adipose tissue. The lipids released from this breakdown are transported to the liver to form VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and other non-HDL cholesterol.
By blocking this source of lipids, niacin effectively lowers total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol levels.
However, niacin (nicotinic acid) supplements cause some unpleasant side effects such as itching and flushing. To avoid such side effects, new niacin supplements are designed as slow-release formulations. Two examples of such formulations are inositol hexaniacinate or “no-flush/flush-free” niacin and wax-matrix extended-release niacin.
Even though both niacin and inositol are cholesterol-lowering agents, there is no clinical support for the lipid-lowering effect of inositol hexaniacinate.
This is most likely due to the strong bond between inositol and the 6 molecules of niacin that makes up the designer supplement. Studies show that niacin is barely released from inositol hexaniacinate.
Pantethine is synthesized from 2 molecules of vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid held together by a molecular bridge made of cysteamine.
Cysteamine is produced from the breakdown of the amino acid, cysteine. It is used in the body to form Coenzyme A.
The breakdown of pantethine releases 2 molecules of cysteamine which then bind to sulfur-containing enzymes in the liver. This reaction breaks the chain of reactions involved in cholesterol synthesis in the liver.
Therefore, cysteamine is responsible for the cholesterol-lowering property of pantethine and not vitamin B5.
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Resterol is a natural remedy that promotes healthy cholesterol levels. Works best when used in conjuction with a healthy diet such as the Paleo Diet.