What is cholesterol?
A soft, waxy substance found among the lipids (fats) in the bloodstream and in all your body’s cells. It’s an important part of a healthy body because it’s used to form cell membranes, some hormones and is needed for other functions. But a high level of cholesterol in the blood – hypercholesterolemia – is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack.
What is LDL and HDL cholesterol?
Cholesterol and other fats can’t dissolve in the blood. They have to be transported to and from the cells by special carriers called lipoproteins. There are several kinds, but the ones to focus on are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Low-density lipoprotein is the major cholesterol carrier in the blood. And about one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL.
Dangers of high LDL cholesterol
If too much LDL cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the walls of the arteries feeding the heart and brain. Together with other substances it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog those arteries. This condition is known as artherosclerosis. The plaque if it breaks away in piece and circulate in blood, or a clot (thrombus) that forms near an existing plaque can block the blood flow to part of the heart muscle and cause a heart attack. If it blocks the blood flow to part of the brain, a stroke results.
Importance of having high HDL cholesterol
Medical experts think HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it’s passed from the body. Some experts believe HDL removes excess cholesterol from plaques and thus slows their growth. HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol because a high HDL level seems to protect against heart attack. A low HDL cholesterol level also may raise stroke risk.
What is Lp(a) cholesterol?
Lp(a) is a genetic variation of plasma LDL. A high level of Lp(a) is an important risk factor for developing atherosclerosis prematurely. How an increased Lp(a) contributes to heart disease isn’t clear. The lesions in artery walls contain substances that may interact with Lp(a), leading to the buildup of fatty deposits.
Setting our goal
Healthy values of HDL is over 40 – 50 mg/dl and LDL is below 140 – 150 mg/dl. So our goal is to keep the bad cholesterol below 140mg/dl and good cholesterol above 50mg/dl.
Sources of cholesterol
People get cholesterol in two ways.
1. The body – mainly the liver – produces varying amounts, usually about 1,000 milligrams a day. that is three to four times more cholesterol than you may eat.
2. Various foods – saturated fatty acids are the main culprit in raising blood cholesterol. Trans fats also raise blood cholesterol. But dietary cholesterol also plays a part. Foods from animals (especially egg yolks, meat, poultry, fish, seafood and whole-milk dairy products) contain it.
Foods from plants (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds) don’t contain cholesterol.
Strategies to lower LDL and improve HDL
Ayurveda suggests that a disciplined diet and exercise plan can help us achieve our goal.
Here are a few time tested measures that can bring your high cholesterol levels to normal and keep it that way.
a. Do regular exercise like walking – for an hour. Regular physical activity by itself increases HDL cholesterol in some people.
b. Do deep breathing exercise for 15minutes daily. It helps refresh your system and is an effective destress technique too.
c. Drink 6 – 8 glasses of water daily
d. Quit smoking. Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol levels and increases thetendency for blood to clot.
e. Start your day with fresh fruits and high soluble fibre grains such as oats.
f. Eat plenty of vegetables, dried beans or legumes and seafood especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardine and tuna. Oysters, clams and mussels are also beneficial in lowering LDL and boosting HDL.
g. Minimize all animal fats including those in dairy and dairy products
h. Restrict omega 6 vegetable oils like corn and safflower
i. Take enough good fat in foods, don’t avoid fat. Olive oil, rapeseed oil, sesame oil etc are healthy.
j. Make sure to eat lots of antioxidant compounds concentrated in fruits [especially citrus fruits, strawberries, apple etc.] nuts [especially almonds and walnut] and vegetables like carrots, broccoli and spinach.
k. Take grilled garlic – one or two small cloves – daily with your main meal. Half a raw onion juice daily is beneficial in boosting HDL.
l. Turmeric and Curry leaves are mentioned as having cholesterol lowering properties and may be added when preparing various dishes.
m. Drink water boiled with 2 tsp coriander seed twice daily. It reduces cholesterol, improves digestion and flushes out toxins.
n. Guggulu [commiphora mukul] is used in ayurveda since long back in treatment for its cholesterol lowering properties.
o. Avoid excess of alcohol. People who consume moderate amounts of alcohol (an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women) have a lower risk of heart disease than nondrinkers. However, increased consumption of alcohol brings other health dangers, such as alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, cancer, suicide, etc.
Finally, know that a high cholesterol is not essentially dangerous by itself, but may just reflect an unhealthy condition.
Many studies have shown that people whose blood cholesterol is low become just as atherosclerotic as people whose cholesterol is high. Only when LDL is converted into a toxic form of oxidized LDL by oxygen free radicals in the blood does it become truly dangerous. And it can occur in a person with low LDL too.
The various strategies mentioned above intervene at the very genesis of atherosclerosis, blocking the toxic transformation of LDL. Thus it is not only beneficial to the ones with high cholesterol, but everyone who is keen in preventing atherosclerosis and its grave hazards.