My Cholesterol Level is Too High!

Category: Personal

After a routine physical, I got the news from my doctor that my cholesterol is too high. My diet is pretty healthy, and I'm not in bad shape for a 48-year-old guy. But this LDL and HDL stuff is a wakeup call for me. Clearly I need to exercise more and be aware of foods to avoid high cholesterol. So here's my 4-month plan to knock 40 or 50 points off that cholesterol number, without using any prescription drugs...

Lower Cholesterol

Lowering Your Cholesterol

I realize this has nothing to do with computers or the Internet, but life is more than 1's and 0's. I hope you find this personal story interesting, useful, and even inspiring.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance floating around in your bloodstream. Your body needs it to make cell membranes and hormones, but too much can put you at risk for a stroke or heart attack. And I have too much. Since getting a lower than expected grade on my heart health report card, I've been doing research into what causes high cholesterol; diets and foods that help to lower cholesterol; and tips on how to lower cholesterol naturally.

And I decided today to make a plan to reduce my cholesterol, and go public with it. I've got a plan to raise my "good cholesterol" (HDL) and reduce the "bad cholesterol" (LDL) levels, by focusing on diet, exercise, and natural supplements. My doctor says that if I don't make significant progress, I'll need to take a cholesterol lowering statin drug like Lipitor or Crestor -- for the rest of my life! I don't want to rely on prescription drugs, and I'm concerned about the potential side effects they bring. So if there's ANYTHING that can be done to lower cholesterol naturally, I'm going to try it.

But before we dive into the particulars of what I plan to do, how's YOUR cholesterol? Are your arteries clogged with lard? You might feel fine, but doctors recommend testing for high cholesterol at least once every five years. More often is better if you have a family history of heart disease, or other cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or smoking. If you're due, get it done! And if the test shows a cholesterol level higher than 200, you need to take action.

My Plan To Lower Cholesterol Naturally

The good news is that relatively simple lifestyle modifications can bring about significant reductions in your cholesterol level. The bad news is that you have to modify your lifestyle. Like most humans, I'm a creature of habit and comfort. But I am motivated to do something about my cholesterol, because I have a family history of cardiovascular trouble. My grandparents died from stroke or heart attack, my mother died at age 72 from heart disease, and my father just had major heart surgery at age 80. He's doing fine, but that's one family tradition I don't want to uphold.

My doctor and I did consider medication, and although the statin drugs such as Zocor, Lipitor and Crestor can work wonders for some, they also have drawbacks. Statins can mess with your immune system, liver, kidneys and muscles. I know... the official story is that "most people tolerate it well, and side effects are usually minor." But I tend to be suspicious of big pharma, so cholesterol lowering drugs will be a last resort for me.

Here's my three-point cholesterol attack plan, in a nutshell:

  1. Get more exercise
  2. Modify my diet
  3. Use natural supplements

Exercise to Lower Cholesterol

When it comes to exercise, everyone has different likes and dislikes. I'm not a gym person, and injuries make it impossible for me to run much. But I do enjoy a good walk, and so does my dog Bonzai. I also plan to use my bike, and a low-impact elliptical trainer, which works out your arms and legs in a cross-country skiing motion.

So my plan is to get out and walk briskly for 20-30 minutes, at least 5 times a week. The only thing that might slow me down are all the people who want to tell me how cute that dog is. If it helps to keep you on track, get a pedometer and aim for 5-10,000 steps a day. If you're chained to a desk, get up and walk around the building for five minutes every hour. If you carry a clipboard, people will think you're doing something important. Be diligent, walk with a friend or co-worker for company and accountability.

I'll hop on that NB9000 elliptical machine when it's too cold outside, or if I decide to catch the news on television. My problem with walking, or almost any exercise, is that I find it boring and tedious. I can't stop thinking of all the other things I could be doing. But when the winter is gone, I'll get my bike out and escape the drudgery of walking. There's something fantastic about flying down those hills that makes me want to climb the next one.

A Low Cholesterol Diet

I've been compiling a list of foods to avoid, and a list of foods that help to lower cholesterol. A low cholesterol diet, particularly one that is careful about avoiding saturated fats, is probably the single most important thing you can do.

We tend to think first about eggs when the subject of high cholesterol comes up. But many doctors now say that eggs are not as evil as once thought. Saturated fats are what really pumps up the cholesterol number, especially the bad LDL component. And the major offenders are meat and dairy products. My plan is to minimize my intake of beef, pork, cream, butter, cheese and ice cream.

Baked goods and fried foods, especially prepared and convenience foods, are also very high in saturated fats. Be on the lookout for cookies and crackers that contain palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil.

It's a little depressing... aren't those the very foods that make life worth living? I'm reminded of a quote from fitness guru Jack LaLanne, who says the secret to a long life is "If it tastes good, spit it out!"

As for foods that actually help to lower cholesterol, or at least increase the good HDL cholesterol, here's what I'm going to focus on:

  • Use healthier oils when cooking, instead of vegetable oil, butter and margarine. Olive oil and canola oil are good substitutes, but some types of coconut oil -- ones that are high in medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) -- can be an even better choice, especially for use in baking. My wife and I use Nutiva Coconut Oil at home, as a substitute for butter.
  • Eat more healthy fish like salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, herring and sardines. They're all rich in omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which help to fight cholesterol. Fish helps to boost HDL levels, and provides protein, which you may be lacking if you cut way back on beef and dairy. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times a week.
  • A good plant-based source of omega-3 is nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts. I'm going to eat a handful of nuts as a snack, instead of something sweet and gooey that comes in a plastic wrapper. Soybeans and flaxseed are also good sources of omega-3.
  • Eat more fiber. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables and great sources of soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol. I enjoy a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, and I've even gotten in the habit of sprinkling a little flaxseed on it. If you're not crazy about fiber rich foods, you can get it in a tablet.
  • Develop a drinking habit. Green tea has lots of healthy anti-oxidants, and also can help lower that nasty LDL cholesterol. I've had to cut back on coffee as part of a strategy to control acid reflux, so drinking green tea will be a good substitute for me. It's also been shown that one serving of alcohol per day can boost "good" cholesterol by as much as 10 percent. There are plenty of good reasons to avoid alcohol, too, so avoid the temptation to rely completely on this factoid to solve your cholesterol problem.
  • Don't start smoking. For a couple of years, I've joked that my New Year's resolution was to "start smoking and gain thirty pounds." Then I could feel good about not keeping my resolutions. But there is a definite connection between smoking and heart disease. That's because cigarette smoking lowers your "good" HDL cholesterol. If you smoke, kicking the habit can help you deal with a cholesterol problem. And there's that minor lung cancer/emphysema issue, too.

Natural Cholesterol-Lowering Supplements

A traditional medical doctor may not mention that there are a variety of natural, non-prescription supplements that you can use to reduce bad cholesterol and/or increase good cholesterol. This Mayo Clinic article and others that I found discuss some natural products that you can consider. Among them are:

  • Artichoke Leaf
  • Barley
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Fish Oil
  • Garlic
  • Niacin
  • Psyllium Powder
  • Red Yeast Rice

Some of them have potential side effects, especially niacin and red yeast rice. So do your research and check with your doctor before deciding which, if any, of these supplements to try. I've decided to add krill oil and possibly some others from that list to my daily regimen.

Will It Work?

My doctor warned me that in spite of my best efforts to attack the cholesterol problem with diet, exercise and supplements, it might not be enough. My "problem" is that I'm not obese, I don't smoke, I'm in decent physical shape, and I already eat a pretty healthy diet.

That's a good problem to have, but it also indicates that the source of my cholesterol problem may be largely hereditary. I'm still determined to do SOMETHING, to try whatever I can try, before I give up and just swallow a pill. Eating healthy and exercising can't be BAD for me, after all.

I welcome your comments, especially if you've been in my situation and have successfully lowered your cholesterol levels without prescription drugs. Please post your comments below...

 
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Most recent comments on "My Cholesterol Level is Too High!"

(See all 118 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

julia
22 Jan 2010

A friend of ours, whose brother is a leading cardiologist at St. Joseph's in Atlanta, recently had success lowing his cholesterol by eating figs. I'm not sure if they were fresh or dried, but you may want to research a possible benefit from eating figs.


Posted by:

Nick Iacovelli
22 Jan 2010

I am trying Levodyn. A all natural product for high blood pressure that suppose to balance cholesterol to. Since it all natural it may replenish vitamins we all are lacking


Posted by:

DR.KALLU
23 Jan 2010

you can use fenugreek seeds to lower your cholesterol. it is better to eat fenugreek after sprouting it. THERE IS A CAPSULE CALLED MAXEPA WHICH CONTAINS OMEGA FATTY ACIDS IS AVAILABLE IN INDIA.


Posted by:

Ann
23 Jan 2010

Red yeast rice tablets work for me. Take them at bedtime because that is when the body produces bad cholesterol.

I use Niacin to raise the good cholesterol level. I buy the non-flush kind.

Good luck! And let us know how it goes.


Posted by:

Linda White
24 Jan 2010

Hi Bob, you say you don't like walking, but what about Bonsai? You may find his bolting in the yard will improve if he gets a daily walk. I also listen to an audio book while I walk, and I got a skijoring harness (google it) for me and my dog that makes the walk much more interesting and fun. Once you teach him simple commands (whoa, gee[right], haw[left]) it's awesome! There is also a bike attachment, when you do get your bike out called a Springer that works wonderfully with a dog, I use mine all the time...my dog Maya (greyhound/husky mix) loves it too.

I also recommend a website called Sparkpeople.com for help with diet and exercise, it makes that whole process more interesting and fun. Good luck, I'm in the same boat as you!


Posted by:

Kath
24 Jan 2010

Please try cayenne tablets (thats right common chilli). It really does work extremely well for cholesterol problems. Have your levels checked before starting and then a couple of months after. The Omega 3 & 6 is also very important.


Posted by:

Abraham
24 Jan 2010

Hi BOB:

How you filling,i hope some impruvemens started to be seen.
Bob let me give you some advices from my experiances.
I am 46,till now i fell good.I believe not to worry abuot what is happening in your life,because what happens to us wether good or bud,it is a process of life.
Bob what i need to say to is just don't be worried or scared too much about your colesterol forget it as it is not with you don't think or take about it,morally if you neglect a deseas it gose way.I don't mean don't do anything,but do it without worryness.I have this habits and believes most of the time i win.
Hope to hear good news.

Abraham


Posted by:

a.onymous
24 Jan 2010

Bob, go to the blogs of Dr. Michael Eades, Dr. William Davis (HeartScan), Jimmy Moore (Livin' la vida low carb), Dr. Kurt Harris (PaNu), a blog called Free the Animal, and the blogs they link to so you can get the real, actual truth about cholesterol and a proper, natural diet. Also read the book Good Calories, Bad Calories (Gary Taubes) for the truth about nutrition science. Your cholesterol numbers are not going to improve on the plan you suggest. They will improve if you read the blogs and book I suggest (and the one about the cholesterol con someone else posted in a comment) and follow their advice. Best wishes.


Posted by:

henrycus
25 Jan 2010

Dear Bob,
Your plan to lowering cholesterol is old and traditional. You should see another alternatife. Cholesterol is produced by your body itself using carbohydrate as the source. I have success lowering cholesterol and trigliseride by "low carbohydrate diet".
Now, my LDL is low and HDL is high, I have never reach like it before.


Posted by:

Roger
28 Jan 2010

Dear Bob; Went on the high cholesterol diet for a year. Got it down from 320 to 285, but no lower. I am a biker , runner and avid gym jerk but finally went on lipitor. I have recently went off, started bothering my joints. Now on niacin and red yeast. Have not check it lately to see if working. Lipitor got it down below 200.


Posted by:

Glenn Sugden
12 Feb 2010

Good luck with your "natural" attempts at lowering your numbers. Keep in mind, however, that as a healthy, regular-exersizer, vegan my cholesterol is *still* borderline. There's a genetic component to the numbers, both high and low. I've been on statins since I was 30, since research has been showing that the earlier you start the greater the benefit. Please don't rule out (safe, very low-side-effect) methods too. Good luck!


Posted by:

Bill P
13 Feb 2010

I had a heart attack about 10 years ago, and have to take a statin drug to keep my cholesterol down. In order to keep the dosage low, my cardiologist also prescribed 1000 mg Niacin thrice a day. Such a dose causes flushing, which diminishes but does not fully disappear over time. One may be tempted to use "flush-free" Niacin. However, while this has most of the effects of regular Niacin, it does *not* lower cholesterol.


Posted by:

Janet
07 Mar 2010

Hi Bob: The cholesterol lowering regime you are following is very similar to the one Dr. Oz (You on a Diet)told us about in November 2006. (I might add I figure it saved my life at the time). Best meats Wild Pacific Salmon - Chicken;Turkey - if you eat red meat do it in moderation and cut off the fat.
No white flour (Multi-grain; whole wheat breads & pasta only) Have "Tomato Sauce" 3 times a week. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. Stick to low fat, low sugar, reduce salt, and you can't have too much fiber. Walk 10,000 steps a day - cardio work out 1 hour per week (can be split into 2 or 3 work outs). It worked for me. Of course I'm learning new "healthy" things,all the time. For instance I just learned that Vitamin D is paramount for lowering your cholesterol (especially important during the winter months). By the way, I suffer from a hypothyroid condition (I have been on medication for over 30 years) I congratulate you for trying to stay healthy "naturally". I feel that too often doctors are 'pushing' pills on us.


Posted by:

Logcabin54
21 Mar 2010

I am a disabled war vet and use Tony Little's Gazelle machine & The Perfect Pushup device for no-impact cardio. Niacin must NOT be used unless as recommended by your PCP. You may have an unknown condition whereby sudden use/bonus use of Niacin could trigger cardiac arrest. The only proven supplement on my labs is garlic in diet and bonus garlic pills as recommended on the box. Experiment with OTC brands to eliminate burping. It will take a full year of consistent use, but will drop your bad numbers by 80 to 100 points, minimum. Stay on it for life.


Posted by:

Pete
26 Oct 2011

To make nuts a more interesting and satisfying part of your menu, roast them with a variety of seasonings. We just made pecans & walnuts by coating them with a 1/4 cup of honey, and roasted for 12 minutes @ 325 degrees. Cool for 5 min, and coat with a mix of 2 tbs whole peppercorns, 2 tbs whole allspice, powder them in a spice grinder (coffee mill) add 2 tbs ground cinnamon and 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg. Store this in an air-tight bag. Mix tbs of this mix with 1/4 cup sugar and coat warm nuts. Store and eat a few at a time. You can add more peppercorns or 1/4 tsp chili. Enjoy.


Posted by:

David Hyatt
31 Oct 2011

Only want to say that I have been where you are. Tried the soft approaches and accomplished nothing. Took fish oil, tried to eat smart, tried the Niacin (WOW!) with virtually no improvement. Even agreed to a small dosage of statins with no improvement. Blood pressure was remaining high (145/100 and up!), I was carrying a little extra around the middle, and after nearly 7 years was resigned to a dependency on daily doses of Omeprazole for terrible acid reflux.

Now I know my circumstances are my own but I came to read about the Primal Blueprint and I was (am)astounded at the positive effects it delivered. After three weeks of eating "primal" (and not fanatically) my total cholesterol dropped 40+ pts, LDL down/HDL up, my blood pressure has returned to 117/69, I shed 15 lbs and the most dramatic benefit to me is I no longer need the Omeprazole. No more gut burning sleepless nights. I feel great!

I try to get out and walk a mile or so a couple times a week but I cannot deny the benefits of sensible diet. In my case, I cut out wheat and sugar, minimized carbohydrates on a daily basis and achieved results I could not even have imagined. For me, the Primal diet works. Look into it. And learn to listen to your body.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Interesting that you mention heartburn and wheat. I was having constant trouble with heartburn, and after much dietary fiddling, I decided to make an effort to eat (mostly) gluten free. Seems to have solved the problem for me too!


Posted by:

Randy
09 Apr 2012

I just recieved my total cholesterol and it's 168 when in 2010 it was 214. I've used olive oil, eat lots of almonds and raisins and oatmeal. I stay away from sugar and I drink no soda at all or fruit juices. Eat dark chocolate on a regular basis. Do some exercise, walk, burst exercise, but I work mostly as a desk, so I bet an hour a week exercise. Eat A LOT of fish, not farmed fish either. Red wine on occasions and cheese along with it. Not a lot of red meat, but a beef tenderloin once a month or so. BP 114/70. Was 188 back in 2010 now 172.


Posted by:

Janice
28 Oct 2013

Cholesterol is a measure of systenic inflammation and it naturally elevates as one gets older. But myocardial infarction is due to another process which is related to carbohydrate intake.

Foods that elevate cholesterol are surprisingly not the greens and animal based foods that are part of our paleolithic past, but come from excess carbohydrate consumption, up to and including complex carbs.

Read Protein Power by the Drs Eades, then try lowering your carb intake to 100 carbs or less per day. You will see results in a short time. Then make up your mind.

I have worked in medical laboratory have seen amazing change in the blood samples of patients who finally understand where the inflammation that they CAN control, is coming from.


Posted by:

Janice
29 Oct 2013

I saw the comment you made to the post from David Hyatt.

This link might be of interest to you.
http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/gerdacid-reflux/gerd-treat-low-high-carb-diet/


Posted by:

Dave Moran
18 Mar 2014

Janice above nailed the truth in the mire of misinformation. Carbs provide the building blocks for the liver to produce serum cholesterol, the oral intake of cholesterol has a minimum impact on your serum cholesterol. I was always quite high but when I became diabetic, and had to control by reducing carb intake, 80 to 120gm/day so reduced not low which is


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