The American Heart Association estimates that more than 100 million adults have cholesterol values greater than 200 mg/dl. Of those, one-third have levels greater than 240.
For the first time, deaths from heart attacks actually are decreasing because of improved treatments. Baby boomers are looking for a “natural” approach rather than prescription drugs. Options are being offered by lay clerks of health-food stores or are seen on the Internet. Claims seem to increase as our aging boomers start to realize the effects of inactive lifestyle, high fat intake and high stress.
The Association recommends eating high-fat fish twice a week. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids help to decrease risk of abnormal heartbeats, decrease triglyceride levels and slow the rate of atherosclerotic plaque deposit. Some people prefer to take 1 gram of fish oil (DHA and EPA) each day to lower their triglyceride levels and prevent a recurring heart attack.
Garlic has been purported to help the heart. A recommended dose of one clove (5400 mcg of allicin) daily certainly can be part of the increased fruit and vegetable intake to boost phenols. It should be known, though, that research is not adequate to make claims. Garlic supplements also may thin blood and could conflict with other medications.
Niacin taken in high doses (1 to 4 grams each day) can raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL), lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) by about 10 percent and decrease triglycerides by about 25 percent. At this level, it also can have some side effects that include skin tingling, elevated blood-sugar levels, heat flashing, less tolerance to alcohol ingestion and potential inflammation to liver. Long-acting Niacin may avoid some of these side effects and is available by prescription.
Sterols and stanols are naturally occurring substances that interfere with cholesterol absorption. Studies have found that these substances may reduce total cholesterol and LDL by 10 to 15 percent without much impact on HDL or triglycerides intake of 2.7-5.1 g/day range. Sytrinol, according to preliminary studies, reduces total cholesterol by 20 to 30 percent; LDL by 19 to 27 percent, and triglycerides by 24 to 34 percent based on preliminary studies at a typical dosage of 300 mg/day.
Soy now is considered safe when consumed as a food, but concentrated extracts may cause hormonal imbalance particularly in post-menopausal women.
The more unique and less tested treatments include Guggulsterone, which is marketed to reduce LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Preliminary trials found that it actually increased LDL with potential skin irritations. Pantethine (pantothenic acid) also is reported to decrease total and LDL cholesterol/triglycerides and elevate HDL; however, side effects could be increased risk of bleeding.
Poliosano (from sugarcane) purports the same claims, but they have not been able to be duplicated in research outside Cuba.
Fermented red yeast rice naturally contains lovastatin and has been said to lower total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides with no effect on HDL levels. It is thought to have the same serious risks as statin drugs and should not be used in conjunction with statins, niacin, etc. It actually is no longer marketed in the United States because of legal issues.
There is no simple solution to help cholesterol levels. But it is important not to come up with your own treatment plan based on a neighbor's recommendation or a clerk. This information merely is to advise you of options and conflicts. No treatment should be undertaken without input by your medical provider.
email@example.com or 247-4355. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.