Approximately 1 in 6 adult Americans has high cholesterol–a major risk factor for heart disease. High cholesterol levels can result from poor diet choices, limited exercise, high stress, or genetic predisposition.

Heart disease, including heart attacks and clogged arteries, also results from inflammation in the cardiovascular system stemming from the same lifestyle choices. Therefore treating high cholesterol and reducing heart disease is not just a matter of lowering cholesterol, but also reducing inflammation. There are several key lifestyle changes that can effectively reduce cholesterol and inflammation.

When considering a nutritional protocol to reduce cholesterol, most people turn to a low saturated fat and high vegetable diet. While this can be effective, the dietary regimen should also focus on eliminating unnatural and excessive sugar intake. Sugar is a major player in the role of inflammation and it also contributes to high cholesterol. Reduction of sugar and simple carbohydrate intake can drastically reduce inflammation and positively affect total cholesterol levels. In addition, consuming more dark green vegetables, reducing processed foods, and eating organic, free-range meat that is naturally lower in saturated fat and calories, can reduce cholesterol.

Exercise is a major factor in heart disease prevention, cholesterol levels, and decreasing cardiovascular inflammation. The main reason that exercise reduces cardiovascular inflammation is the decrease in stress (following physical activity), and the inflammatory agents stress creates. Exercise also tones the heart muscle, and increases circulation and oxygen perfusion. A minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day can significantly reduce risk of heart disease, and help optimize cholesterol levels.

As an alternative to statin (cholesterol reducing) drugs, a number of nutrients can be used as cholesterol and inflammatory reducing agents. The list of nutrients includes: magnesium, vitamin c, fish oil, niacin, plant sterols, psyllium fiber, CoQ 10, and vitamin e. These nutrients must be paired with the necessary lifestyle changes and taken in adequate doses in order to effectively decrease cholesterol levels. For example, fish oil may be prescribed in doses as high as 5,000 mg, and niacin as high as 1500 mg doses at bedtime, to be effective.

These nutrients may not show any additional benefit to lowering cholesterol when used with a statin drug; however, they still may prevent progression to heart disease. It is necessary to create a nutrient plan designed to your specific heart and health needs, as each individual has different considerations. A tailored nutrient regimen will yield the most optimal results in lowering your cholesterol.

Alternative options to reducing cholesterol assist in the underlying issue of heart disease, inflammation, and can prevent progression to heart disease. However, there are circumstances in which a natural approach is limited. In these cases, it is vitally important to seek intervention from a qualified practitioner such as an internist or cardiologist.

Dr. Shannon Sinsheimer is a licensed naturopathic doctor at Optimal Health Center and can be reached at (760) 568-2598.

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