Treating high cholesterol levels naturally

Cholesterol is produced in the body as a response to inflammation – therefore the natural healing approach is  to deal with any cause of inflammation in the body. This is likely to be dietary – food intolerances and over acidic diets – so alcohol, caffeine, red meat, trans fatty acids (see below), dairy and wheat will need to be reduced, and maybe cut out altogether if there is a food intolerance.

Antioxidants are important as they will reduce any inflammatory processes in the circulatory system.  For example pomegranate juice has been found to be effective against atherosclerosis, inflammation and high cholesterol levels. 

Liver function also needs to be addressed as an inefficient liver will not clear up excess blood fats.

High stress levels involve the hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal glands (HPA axis) which produce the hormones (including cortisol and adrenaline) needed to deal with the stress – insulin is part of the calming down, or opposing action after stress has been dealt with. With constant stress levels this process doesn't have a beginning and an end, it becomes constant. High cortisol levels result in the deposition of visceral fat in the abdomen, raised blood pressure, lowered immunity and raised blood sugar and insulin levels – in other words metabolic syndrome X – heart disease and diabetes. Other causes of high cortisol levels include steroid use, depression, smoking and spinal cord injury. Adaptogenic herbs are able to normalise cortisol and other stress hormone levels after stressful events – specifically rhaponticum, eleutherococcus, rhodiola, withania and panax ginseng.  

A low GI (glycaemic index) diet has been shown to significantly reduce cholesterol levels, specifically LDL levels – it also reduces the risk of diabetes, improves insulin sensitivity in diabetics, and reduces the damaging effects of highly variable blood sugar level. C-reactive protein – a measure of inflammation in the body – is significantly decreased by weight loss and low GI diet. Insulin and glucose normalising herbs include eleuthero, rhaponticum, rhodiola and holy basil (Ocimium sanctum). 

Trans fatty acids, the chemically changed oils developed by the cholesterol reduction industry, have been found not only to increase cholesterol levels, but also to cause atherosclerosis, damage heart muscle, the immune system and cause cancer and infertility – despite all this, vegetable oils and margarines are still being promoted as heart healthy. It has been estimated that the average adult in the West eats 15-20g of trans fats daily – from trans fats found in baked, fried and processed foods. 

Natural oils and fats, especially those with relatively high omega 3 concentrations – saturated and unsaturated – do not have this detrimental effect on the body, they are actively beneficial. Oils from fish are especially high in omega 3's, as are oils from hemp seed and linseeds. A Japanese study reported in the Lancet in 2007 found that two servings of oily fish per week, or 900mg/day of EPA and DHA offered the same level of protection as statins . 

  • Reduce foods which cause inflammation – dairy, wheat, pork, oranges, tea, coffee, alcohol, sugar, trans fatty acids

  • avoid any foods to which you are intolerant – usually dairy when cholesterol levels are raised

  • have plenty of antioxidant foods – pomegranates, all vegetables, most fruit (especially red and purple ones)

  • follow a low GI diet

  • increase dietary fibre – especially with foods such as psyllium, oats or linseeds

  • increase omega 3 fatty acids – oily fish, fish oils, linseeds

  • use herbs and spices which improve liver efficiency and improve cholesterol processing by the body: garlic, turmeric, black pepper, artichoke, caraway, ginger

  • help the liver with bitter foods such as dandelion leaf, chicory, endive; also lemon and lime, olive oil, olives

  • take blue green algae such as chlorella* which can help to reduce cholesterol

  • take medicinal herbs* – such as commiphora, triphala, milk thistle, andrographis – which act on the liver and digestion to reduce cholesterol – it is important to find the correct herbs for you

*available from myself, or any herbalist, and usually formulated to suit the individual

Christine Herbert