Pick up just about any newspaper or magazine these days and you will probably find mention of cholesterol­­ recipes to lower your cholesterol, new studies, new drugs. Seems everyone is concerned with lowering their cholesterol count. Most people find it useful to first understand how it is produced and used by the body.

Cholesterol is a crystalline substance consisting of fats. It is found naturally in the brain, nerves, liver, blood and bile. Cholesterol is necessary for the proper functioning of the body and is produced mainly in the liver. It is used by cells to build membranes, and it is also used in certain hormone function and aids digestion. Cholesterol travels from the liver through the bloodstream where it is delivered to the cells. The cells take what they need, and the excess cholesterol remains in the bloodstream. Excessive cholesterol often forms plaque, which sticks to artery walls and may eventually cause heart disease.

Researchers have discovered that there are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoproteins, LDL and high density lipoproteins HDL. LDLs are the bad guys, HDLs are the good guys. HDLs actually work to remove excess cholesterol from the blood and tissues- but their exact function is not clearly understood.

The National Cholesterol Education Program has set the safe level of cholesterol at 200mg/dl. A reading above 200 indicates potential for developing heart disease. A level of 200-239 is borderline and those over 240 are at high risk. These levels are further broken down into HDL and LDL but for our discussion these numbers are sufficient.

Traditional as well as holistic medicine agree dietary changes are the best way to control your cholesterol levels. The Life Extension Foundation has done an extensive study on the new cholesterol lowering drugs; pharmacists and doctors too agree these drugs carry some pretty hefty side effects including liver damage.

Here are some tips you may not have been aware of if you are battling a high cholesterol count. Of course it goes without saying that meat intake should be reduced­­ along with dairy. Margarine and vegetable oils found on the shelves in the supermarket are not much of an improvement. The monounsaturated oils strike a balance between saturated fats and polyunsaturated oils. They do not cause cholesterol to accumulate as do saturated fats and they do not easily become rancid as do polyunsaturates, and they do not deplete the blood of HDL which pick up cholesterol from the arterial walls and transport it to the liver where it is broken down into bile acids. A significant illustration is seen among Mediterranean populations who consume an abundance of olive oil, the oil highest in monounsaturates. These people eat an unusually high fat diet, yet have a low incidence of heart disease. Always buy extra virgin, unprocessed olive oil. Plant breeders have developed new strains of sunflower and safflower oils that are largely monounsaturated; these are beginning to show up in the health food stores and will hopefully find their way into the grocery stores.

Using a source of Omega 3 & 6 such as primrose oil, (my personal favorite) flax seed, or black currant seed has been scientifically proven to lower cholesterol. The only food source known that is naturally high in these oils is salmon.

The herbs cayenne, garlic, goldenseal and hawthorn berry are also beneficial for lowering cholesterol counts. They go hand in hand with natural foods such as grains, vegetables and fruits. Studies reveal that third world diets, which consist of these natural foods, do not suffer from high incidences of heart attack or high cholesterol. Extra vitamin C and E along with digestive enzymes are also useful.

When you embark upon any diet change, make it a gradual one. You'll more likely stick with it without "rebounding" back with more weight and higher cholesterol counts. Remember, always be gentle with the body! Till next time, Rebecca.

If you would like more help with a high cholesterol count why not join us? I'm offering a four week class in nutrition starting September 5-26th from 6:30-8PM. Class size will be limited. Call for registration 343-5256.

Questions and comments welcomed via The Zephyr or my office at 312 Hill Arcade, Galesburg, Il 6l40l.

Last Modified: August 28, 1996

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