One of the most common causes of heart attacks in the western world is arterial blockage caused by the accumulation of cholesterol. While this can be avoided by a good diet and exercising, if you’ve been diagnosed with high levels of bad cholesterol, there are foods and activities that speed up the process of reducing your cholesterol levels.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is an organic lipid molecule and is biosynthesized by all animal cells because it is an essential structural component of all animal (not plant or bacterial) cell membranes that is required to maintain both membrane structural integrity and fluidity. (source: wikipedia)
The level of cholesterol in our body is a result of a process in the liver that creates the cholesterol. In fact, over 85% of our cholesterol is produced by the liver. The rest comes from eating animal products, such as beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy.
The body is an incredible system, and a healthy body creates cholesterol for a reason, since it is an essential material in our bodies:
- Cholesterol is used to produce hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
- Cholesterol is vital for the creation of vitamin D.
- The membrane of every cell in our body contains cholesterol.
- Cholesterol is used to produce needed steroids.
When do you have too much cholesterol?
A situation of higher-than-normal levels of cholesterol can be worrying because it may build up in the blood vessels and cause coronary diseases, as well as problems with blood flow.
As of today, the normal range of cholesterol in the body is up to 200 mg.
The standard medicine taken to treat additional cholesterol levels operates by delaying the enzyme that takes part in the process of creating cholesterol in the liver, so we limit the rate of building our own cholesterol. But is it logical for us to limit the internal creation of cholesterol without addressing the external source? Nutrition will always be crucial when dealing with a surplus of cholesterol.
How can you speed up cholesterol reduction?
The cholesterol one needs to get rid of is LDL (Low-Density Lipoproteins), which is common in animal products. One of the best ways to lower LDL levels is by consuming foods rich in HDL (High-Density Lipoproteins), which comes from plants and is called Phytosterols. Phytosterols work in a similar manner to the soluble fibers in laxatives, and can be found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, soy, and whole grains.
2. Onion Extract
Several studies have found that onions are effective in reducing LDL (“bad” cholesterol), as well as your body’s glycemic level. Dr. Deepika Gopal, a cardiologist at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano, says that: “In the Indian culture, we believe spices have healing properties, and onion and garlic are both very useful in lowering cholesterol, based on what we’ve seen in Indian cooking.” It is not a miracle cure, but can definitely help.
3. Red Yeast Rice
As the name suggests, this is a type of red yeast that is grown on rice. This yeast contains monacolin K, a compound that doesn’t allow the liver to produce cholesterol, which the body needs to build its cells. When not locally produced, the body starts searching for reservoirs of cholesterol in the body and uses them. Taking red yeast in pill form has been shown to reduce LDL levels by 10%-30%.
A moderate consumption of soy products such as tofu has been shown to reduce LDL levels in the body, as well as occasionally having a positive effect on breast cancer. According to a Harvard Medical School study, drinking 2½ cups of soy milk or eating 10 ounces of tofu a day can reduce LDL levels by 5%-6%.
You’ve probably heard that a glass of red wine is good for your health, and the reason is that, even though it doesn’t reduce the level of LDL in the body, it increases the level of HDL. Think of HDL as a drain unclogger for cholesterol. The Mayo Clinic warns that men and women under 65 should avoid drinking more than two glasses of wine a day, and those over 65 stick to 1 glass a day. However, consult with your doctor first, as alcohol can exacerbate preexisting liver disease and certain heart conditions.
6. Indian Gooseberry
Indian gooseberry contains potent antioxidants that help the cardiovascular system. Cholesterol will oxidize in your bloodstream, becoming plaque, which adheres to the arterial walls and slowly clogs them. Antioxidants stop oxidization, preventing the buildup of plaque.
Pectin is a fiber that can be found in the white membrane inside citrus fruits. Pectin can lower LDL levels by 7%-10% and works in a way similar to phytosterol and soluble fibers. Pectin is also found in apples, as well as in pill form.
8. Licorice Root
This is only relevant for fresh licorice root or in pill form, as the candied stuff you find in the store often doesn’t contain any real licorice at all. A few recent studies found that licorice root can lower LDL levels, as well as body fat. Licorice root has many healthy properties. Please be aware, however, that licorice can have severe interactions with certain medication such as insulin, contraceptives, and laxatives. If you are taking any of these and want to start using it, consult with your doctor.
A lesser-known citrus fruit, but with potent cholesterol-lowering powers. You may recognize the aroma from Earl Grey tea, as oil from bergamot rinds is used to give that tea its particular flavor. While bergamot has a small amount of pectin, its real power comes from having a high concentration of several flavonoids. In several recent studies, bergamot was found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels by around 25%-27%, as well as raise HDL cholesterol levels.
Some laxatives don’t just clear your bowels; they can also block the absorption of cholesterol in the blood. Laxatives that contain soluble fibers become jelly-like and travel through your stomach and intestines, collecting cholesterol and preventing it from being absorbed. The best part is that the laxative absorbs cholesterol from food, not from your body’s reservoirs, which forces the body to start using its own supply. Additionally, fibrous laxatives often help you feel sated and prevent you from craving snacks.
The Japanese Nihon University School of Medicine found that women who sleep less than 5 hours or more than 8 hours, often suffer from an excess of LDL and absence of HDL. According to the experts at the university, cholesterol metabolism happens when we sleep, so getting too much or not enough will disrupt the body’s natural functions. Additionally, getting enough sleep increases your mental faculties, helping you control unhealthy cravings and giving you energy to exercise and move more during the day.