Herbal Medicine for High CholesterolSep 22, 2022
What is High Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a buzzword in health - everyone has heard of it but maybe you don’t exactly know what it is. Cholesterol is a substance found in every cell of your body because it helps make up the cell membrane. Cholesterol is also used as a building block for hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and vitamin D. You need cholesterol for proper cellular and hormonal function but when you have too much cholesterol in your blood, either due to genetics or diet, it can cause problems.
What are the two types of Cholesterol?
There are two main types of cholesterol: high density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL cholesterol can create plaques in arteries that may lead to heart disease or heart attacks. Higher levels of LDL are associated with a higher risk of heart disease. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is protective against heart disease.
For many people, lowering LDL as a way to lower risk of heart disease is a major health goal. Cholesterol can sometimes be hard to manage because so much of how our bodies deal with it comes from our genetic makeup.
What food is good for High Cholesterol?
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Most of us know garlic is a key flavor in food from around the world but garlic is also one of the greatest medicinal herbs for heart health. It may help maintain healthy cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
A recent meta-analysis investigating the effects of garlic on cholesterol in 39 trials found that garlic supplementation significantly decreased total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Total cholesterol was reduced 8%, which was associated with a 38% decrease in the risk of cardiovascular events at age 50. Pretty impressive results!
Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)
Cayenne is a warming herb that helps herbal formulas diffuse through our circulatory system. This herb is used in western herbal medicine to promote healthy circulation in the body and the heart. Cayenne can be taken as a capsule, tincture, or as a medicinal food. Capsaicin, the active constituent in cayenne has been studied for its effects on cholesterol.
In a recent randomized controlled trial, participants taking 4 mg capsaicin by mouth daily were found to have increased HDL-C levels and decreased triglycerides and C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation and heart disease risk. The study was small but the results are promising!
Oats (Avena sativa)
Oats are a simple, powerful way to improve your cardiovascular health. There have been lots of studies on the benefits of eating oats, usually specifically focused on their ability to lower cholesterol. Studies have shown that eating oats can significantly lower total and LDL cholesterol.
Taking small steps like adding oats to your diet can have big effects on cholesterol levels. A recent systematic review found that studies showed decreases in LDL cholesterol of up to 23%. That’s a HUGE difference, especially considering that the change made was just eating some oatmeal.
What herbal supplements can you take for High Cholesterol?
Herbs can be powerful tools for helping us optimize our physical and mental health. We have access to a wide variety of plant medicines in our spice cabinets, gardens, and grocery stores. I enjoy working with clients to incorporate the healing power of herbs into their daily lives in a safe, effective way. I practice western herbalism but respectfully incorporate plants from other healing traditions, such as Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, into my practice. I utilize herbs in many forms, including teas, tinctures, and in dilutions such as UNDA remedies and flower essences for more gentle effects.
My top priority is keeping my clients safe. Herbs and other natural products are often marketed as safe or more effective alternatives to prescription drugs. Unfortunately, ‘natural’ does not equal ‘safe.’ Using supplements or herbs without a healthcare provider’s guidance can lead to dangerous interactions with conventional pharmaceutical drugs. I work with my clients to make sure they are educated about the safe and effective use of evidence-informed natural therapies.
Always talk to a qualified healthcare provider, naturopathic doctor, or herbalist before starting any new herbal medicines or supplements.
Qin Y, Ran L, Wang J, et al. Capsaicin Supplementation Improved Risk Factors of Coronary Heart Disease in Individuals with Low HDL-C Levels. Nutrients. 2017;9(9):1037. Published 2017 Sep 20. doi:10.3390/nu9091037
Ried K, Toben C, Fakler P. Effect of garlic on serum lipids: an updated meta-analysis. Nutr Rev. 2013 May;71(5):282-99.
Thies F, et al. Oats and CVD risk markers: A systematic literature review. British Journal of Nutrition. 2014: 112(S2); S19-S30.
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