Alternative Treatment for Lowering Cholesterol
In this age of DIY self-medication, there are a host of alternative treatments on the market. But, how do you know what really works?
We already know that poor dietary habits are responsible for many of our health problems, and therefore focusing on diet is one of the first things you should think about.
Make healthy diet choices
#1 Add more fiber to your diet, by increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, and by adding oats, barley, wholegrain sources, and pulses.
#2 Increase your intake of omega 3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids may help lower triglycerides, and increase HDL cholesterol.
Omega 3 sources: oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring), soya, nuts and seeds, flax, or canola oil.
#3 Consider taking plant sterols. They are believed to decrease blood cholesterol levels by competing with dietary cholesterol for absorption.
Studies have shown that when eaten as part of a low-fat diet, and in the recommended amount (1.3 grams of sterols; 3.4 grams of stanols daily), both sterols and stanols can lower total cholesterol up to 10%, and LDL (bad) cholesterol up to 14 - 17%.
Plant sterol sources: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, cereals, legumes, they are also added to certain foods including margarines, spreads, soft cheeses and yogurts.
A simple Google search for “natural cholesterol lowering,” for example, will return a vast array of alternative supplementary medicines. The difficulty comes in separating truth from myth, which can be very challenging indeed.
The problem with most of these products is their complete lack of scientific backing.
So, what does work?
Along with the dietary modifications, mentioned above, studies have shown that psyllium husks can be very effective in lowering cholesterol levels. They are similar to oats and wheat, and are a rich source of soluble fiber.
The FDA state that, "3g to 12g soluble fiber from psyllium seed husk, when included as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."
But, what doesn’t work?
With so many alternative therapies available, it would be impossible to discuss them all. So, let’s take a look at two examples:
#1 Garlic was touted to have cholesterol-lowering properties through a compound called allicin, which was thought to prevent the body absorbing cholesterol. Recent research has however challenged this idea.
A meta-analysis in 2000 examined 13 studies and found that on average garlic lowered cholesterol only 15.7 mg/dL more than the placebo. Another study in 2007 found that there were no statistically significant effects of the 3 forms of garlic (raw garlic, powdered garlic supplement, aged-garlic–extract supplement) on LDL cholesterol concentrations.
#2 Guggul is a herb derived from a type of myrrh tree. It was also thought to help lower LDL cholesterol levels, while raising HDL cholesterol levels.
However, a study published in JAMA in 2003 found that there were no significant changes in the levels of total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, or VLDL cholesterol, in response to treatment with guggul.
How to spot a fake product
Many suppliers of these alternative products are trying to make a few bucks from unsuspecting members of the public, preying on them as easy targets.
So, how do you determine if it’s really a waste of your hard earned cash?
Generally speaking such products rely on testimonials and anecdotes, rather than strong scientific evidence. Also, many claim to have scientific backing, when in actual fact they don’t. Therefore it pays to check the product out properly, before making a purchase.
At best such products are completely useless; at worst they can be very dangerous indeed.
As with all health supplements, please be sure to consult a qualified medical professional before taking an alternative treatment for heart disease.
Melanie Thomassian is a dietitian and author of Dietriffic.com, an online resource for credible healthy eating tips for busy people.