Controlling Cholesterol & Beating Heart Disease
By Dan Brook
Numerous scientific studies show that reducing your cholesterol, among other activities, is the best way to beat heart disease, cancer, stroke, and other deadly diseases. A major study by Kaiser Permanente and the University of Kuopio (Finland) also concluded in August 2009 that high cholesterol is associated with Alzheimer's Disease. Being such a grave concern, lowering cholesterol and improving heart health has been declared a "national health priority." It also needs to be a personal priority for all of us.
In general, your liver produces all the cholesterol you need, a necessary function for building cell membranes. Consuming cholesterol, however, can create an excess, which often leads to the clogging of arteries, causing heart disease (a blockage in the heart) and stroke (a blockage in the brain). In the U.S. and other western countries, there is, shockingly, widespread evidence of arterial clogging even in teenagers.
They all agree on this diet
Further, what's best for your heart turns out to be good for your brain -- and also good for the environment! "People tend to think of the brain and the heart as totally separate, but they are not," Rachel A. Whitmer, Ph.D. of Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif., told WebMD. "We are learning that what is good for the heart is also good for the brain -- and that midlife is not too soon to be thinking about risk factors for dementia." It's vital that both our heart spans and our brain spans are as long, healthy, and happy as our maximum life spans.
High-protein, low-carbohydrate fad diets (i.e., Atkins-style diets) may lead to temporary weight loss, but they are often a health disaster. A Northwestern University study reports that increases in the consumption of animal protein is correlated with, over time, increases in a person's weight and a greater risk to a person's health. The evidence is in; these fad diets should be out.
Eating the right foods, and avoiding the wrong ones, is the key to achieving both your appropriate weight and great health. Doing so will help lower your cholesterol and can prevent or reverse heart disease and other major maladies. Take control of your life!
There are many plant foods that are heart-healthy and could be beneficial for lowering your cholesterol, especially these that are high in antioxidants, vitamins, or fiber:
That said, some foods are, to paraphrase George Orwell, more equal than others. Various plant food sterols can very effectively block cholesterol and also help reduce LDL (low-density lousy cholesterol), while increasing the body's HDL (high-density healthy cholesterol).
Top ten cholesterol reducers
As a special bonus, cocoa could be #11, which is likewise rich in natural phytonutrients, as it is also good for lowering cholesterol. Needless to say, chocolate is also delicious! The higher the cocoa level -- meaning dark chocolate -- and the lower the amount of dairy and sugar, the better for your health.
Cholesterol sinner list
In addition to eating healthy foods, and avoiding the "deadly sins," scientific studies indicate that it is beneficial to:
It is important to recognize that the human body produces all the cholesterol it needs. If you consume cholesterol, your body will then likely have an excess amount of it, too often leading to clogged arteries and heart disease. Regardless of genetics and other factors, your diet is usually the biggest factor determining your cholesterol level and health risk -- despite the fact that the pharmaceutical industry spends billions of dollars claiming otherwise.
Indeed, according to the research conducted by Dean Ornish, M.D., 82% of those who switched to a low-fat plant-based diet, along with increasing exercise and engaging in stress management, were able to arrest and even reverse their heart disease.
Statins are not the only answer
In very stark contrast, there is overwhelming long-term, cross-cultural, multi-national evidence that a plant-based diet is not only safe and healthy, but indeed capable of preventing or reversing heart disease as well as preventing other diseases (e.g., cancer, diabetes, gout, and others) and being beneficial for all-around good health and nutrition.
Generally, foods rich in vitamins and fiber are good for reducing your cholesterol; in contrast, foods without significant amounts of vitamins and fiber are unhealthy. Animal products often contain saturated fat and cholesterol, but never fiber or antioxidants. Plant foods often contain fiber and antioxidants, and never cholesterol and typically little or no saturated fat.
Organic fruits, vegetables, and grains tend to have higher nutritional levels than those produced through chemical agriculture, as the chemical pesticides may suppress the plants' innate abilities to properly protect themselves, therefore making organic produce a better choice for you as well as the environment.
Vegetarians have lower cholesterol
We should note that some foods and herbs may interact, either positively or negatively, with some medicines (e.g., antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-clotting/blood thinning medications, birth control pills, cholesterol-lowering drugs, etc.). If you are taking any medicine, herb, or drug, for any reason, be sure to learn about that medicine and with what it may interact. Likewise if you have any disease, medical condition, or are pregnant. In addition to doing your own research, check in with your doctor, pharmacist, and other trained medical professionals.
In a nutshell, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the ten basic facts to know about cholesterol reduction are:
If you're ready to take control of your life, by controlling cholesterol and beating the top three killers, including heart disease, now's the time. Dr. Susan Bennett, director of the Women's Heart Program at George Washington University Medical Center, reminds us that "It's never too late to take action to prevent and control the risk factors for heart disease."
Now's the time. Live long, healthy, and happy!