Is cholesterol really an issue?

Remember being told eggs and butter were bad for you because they could raise your cholesterol levels? Now you hear they may be OK to eat after all, and maybe high cholesterol isn’t really the issue we once thought it was. With all this flip-flopping back and forth, how do you know what to believe? Is cholesterol really an issue or not?

In the same way that all fats were once thought to be bad for you, and now we know that some fats are important for good health, new evidence indicates that cholesterol may not actually be the demon it’s been made out to be.

Heart health

Heart disease is something that can be greatly improved by adopting healthy lifestyle practices – in this article I’m going to move beyond the familiar territory of improving diet and increasing exercise, into Ayurvedic treatments plans which are extremely effective. There are many subtle physical and energetic influences which will affect heart health.

High cholesterol can mean cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels of your body. These can block blood flow through the arteries and veins, meaning a heart attack or other serious issues.

In North America, Australia and some countries in Europe, heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women. I’m also seeing a lot more patients come who have been told they have high cholesterol and need to bring it down.

The main thing to understand is that there is not a one-size-fits-all number when it comes to healthy cholesterol. Before providing a treatment plan, some of the things I will look at first, are, is there a family history of heart problems? Is there a blood pressure issue as well? There are always a lot of factors to look into before going onto cholesterol medications.

What is cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is carried around the body in the blood. The body produces most cholesterol naturally, and it is found in some foods.

Lipoproteins carry cholesterol in the blood. The two main types that carry cholesterol to and from cells are called low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).

The lower the density of the lipoproteins, the more fats it contains. HDL has traditionally been considered “good” because this type of cholesterol travels through your blood collecting excess LDL cholesterol and returning it to the liver where it can be broken down rather than adding to plaque buildup in your arteries. LDL is considered “bad” because this type of cholesterol has the potential to accumulate in your arteries as plaque and eventually clog your arteries.

The main thing that we work on is bringing inflammation down – which is also a major contributor to other diseases such as arthritis, autoimmune and diabetes.

When it comes to cholesterol in food, the cholesterol you eat may have been wrongly implicated all along. It now appears that dietary cholesterol has little to no effect on cholesterol levels in the body. One study evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease, by the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, indicated that dietary fat does not increase cardiovascular disease mortality.

Why cholesterol may not be such a bad thing

While we’re breaking down commonly held beliefs, here’s another one. When arteries are damaged by a lifestyle event such as stress, high blood pressure, nicotine, or other toxins, cholesterol is the body’s first response to help repair the artery, according to cardiologist and author of “Clean Gut”, Dr Alejandro Junger. Similar to forming a scab on a wound, the body sends cholesterol plaque to help repair the damage. This is the small, high-density type of cholesterol. In a healthy body, healthy cells would then continue to repair the artery, and the cholesterol plaque would be reabsorbed back into the body and not accumulate and become a health issue.

However, in a chronic situation like ongoing stress, high blood pressure, or exposure to toxins (all inflammation producers), the signal to stop sending cholesterol to that damaged area never gets turned off and the cholesterol plaque continues to build up. Chronic inflammation can exacerbate this process and keep the plaque building until the affected artery is clogged.

Living a healthy, low-stress lifestyle, including mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga, can help turn off the conveyor belt of plaque being sent to a damaged artery.

The body’s central organ

In Ayurveda, the heart is a critical energetic hub of the body, where a diverse range of physical and energetic pathways come together.

This is important to understand because it means that the heart is inherently affected by, and capable of influencing, every part of the body.

Vata, pitta and kapha – the body’s three different dosha are primarily located in the heart, as are ojas (the subtle essence of vitality and immunity). Enjoy the links above, to find out more background on these topics.

Treating high cholesterol

In Ayurveda cholesterol is a metabolic problem where fat is stuck in the tissues and this affects the body’s ability to break that up. The problem is in that particular channel where it’s stuck and we have to look at where this is coming from – is it a vata, pitta, or kapha problem. Then we put together a program that breaks down the fat.

If you look at the blood of someone who has cholesterol issues, they will have fat in the blood and their body will be poor at breaking it down quickly. Their metabolism will also be slow.

One of the first things we will work on is balancing agni (the body’s digestive fire) so we can make sure the tissues’ digestive fire is working properly. More on agni here.

Who is most at risk?

Anyone is at risk of heart disease if they have high cholesterol, although it tends to be most common in the pitta stage of life – which is during the 30s and 50s.  We also see high risk in people who have a DNA deposition when we test for this.  This is how we now personalise medicine.  

Lowering cholesterol

In Ayurveda, we not only look at diet, but also the impact of the food. The taste and digestion are important. For example, when there is a cholesterol problem, many believe you should stay away from eggs. It’s important to understand that cholesterol can change, depending on the amount of time they are boiled. It’s not as easy as saying just avoid eggs.

The most important thing is make sure digestion is working properly. You also will need to stay away from foods that are overly processed or high in trans fats (common in industrially produced foods from vegetable fats, like biscuits, pastries, takeaway).

The best diet you can eat is one that is largely plant-based and includes the 6 tastes (you can read more about the 6 tastes in an article I wrote here). The animal based foods are going to be more problematic in terms of raising cholesterol and causing heart problems. So that might mean limiting red meat, maybe egg yolk and fish (even though this is better than red meat). Milk can also be a big contributor. You will also want to stay away from alcohol as this will affect your liver.  We have seen in our clients with a specific plan that we have reduced their cholesterol in 6-8 weeks.

Make sure you eat plenty of good quality grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables – none of these contribute to the ‘bad cholesterol’.

This is what I mean when I say that food can be your medicine. What you are putting into your body on a daily basis, is going to keep you healthy and help turn around any health issues.

Another factor to consider is how efficiently your body is working. If agni (digestive fire) is low your body will still produce cholesterol.

In this case you might want to consider a detox as this is the best way to quickly re-boot your body to get all the organs functioning better. You can read about our 7-day detox or our 28-day re-set program. We’re seeing amazing results from both programs.

In the clinic, we also use Ayurvedic herbs to break up fat and to bring cholesterol down.

Guggulu is good too – it has the ability to break fats up.

Other things to consider are regular exercise, deep relaxing breathing, drinking adequate water and definitely no smoking.

Home remedy: Turmeric and curry leaves

Turmeric is both astringent and bitter – it breaks down the fat and is also highly anti-inflammatory. The little yellow spice in your pantry is an excellent way to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease.

Science even backs up what Ayurveda has known for thousands of years. A study, published in the Journal Atherosclerosis, documented that turmeric efficiently extracts and reduces the levels of cholesterol in the blood along with the prevalence of atherosclerosis (heart attack and stroke) with time.

Bonus home remedy: Ayurvedic Medicated Water

Ayurvedic medicated water, or CCF tea (coriander, cumin and fennel) is another simple way of detoxifying and clearing the build-up of inflammation and restoring agni. More on the wonders of CCF tea in another post here.

One of my patients, on daily medication to bring down his high cholesterol, came to see me for help. We changed his diet and worked on igniting his digestive fire, this included drinking CCF tea. After one-month, he was able to come off his blood pressure medication. Two months later he was taken off his cholesterol medication all together.

Recipe for you to try at home

If you want a super-cholesterol lowering recipe try our Moong bean soup, it’s also widely used in many of our Ayurvedic detoxes.

It’s made with garlic, which has five of the 6 tastes and also onion, which works on all channels