One of the greatest blunders nutrition science has made has to do with cholesterol. Once believed the king of all that is evil in relation to heart attacks and strokes, cholesterol is now known to be essential for the correct operation of our brains, steroid hormones (basically our sex hormones like testosterone and cortisol), bile acids, absorbing vitamin D and especially individual cell structure.
The word cholesterol breaks down into bile solid alcohol (-chole, -stereos, -ol). Its name comes from its discovery in gallstones. It is manufactured by all animals as it is essential for cell membrane structure and allows us to literally ‘move.’ Plants and many types of bacteria have a solid cell wall that prevents substantial movement. That is in part because plants and those bacteria do not contain cholesterol, but they do have small amounts of similar –sterol substances.
This explains why you are unable to get enough cholesterol from eating plants and, if vegetarian, must provide it in the diet somehow with dairy or fish. This is also one thing that vegans are often dangerously deficient in and why many feel fantastic after eating meat post a long time span without foods abundant in cholesterol.
Since cholesterol is the primary steroid synthesized by the body in animals, it is obvious that having your cholesterol in a balanced state is optimal.
The Western medical system recognizes this by keeping a close eye on levels, specifically HDL and LDL levels. This is part and parcel of the lipid hypothesis (notice it is not a theory…) that states high levels of LDL in relation to HDL has strong correlations and implications for cardiovascular vitality. The hypothesis claims that diets low in saturated fat will bring balance to the LDL numbers. Statins are the most used prescription medication used for lowering LDL numbers by slowing or shutting down the bodies ability to produce its own saturated fats. It seems obvious why side effects like myopathy (loss of control in muscle tissue not due to nerve failure) can occur from this when one knows how important cholesterol is to cell structure.
Cholesterol disease is relatively rare in young people. Why is this? What processes are slowing down or breaking down that allows the buildup of cholesterols that brings on atherosclerosis (arterial hardening), myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), cerebrovascular insult (stroke) and peripheral vascular disease?
Research has shown that the body loses the ability to remove LDL cholesterol as one gets older. That results in a build-up and means the older we get, the more discipline we must foster in ourselves to keep everything balanced and running smoothly.
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Cholesterol Balancing Herbs and Foods
Herbs and foods that directly help with high cholesterol include:
- Green Tea
- Snow Fungus (Wood Ear Fungus)
- Eating healthy fats like Avocados; Coconut Oil; Pastured Meats, Eggs, and Dairy; and quality Wild-Caught Seafood
- Eating more vegetables (they are low in cholesterol)
One of the hallmarks of a vegetarian life is the much lower level of LDL cholesterol to HDL that results. This is primarily achieved by the consumption of plant foods that contain little-to-no cholesterol. The soluble fiber plants provide also plays a major role in helping the body stabilize its cholesterol levels as well.
Cholesterol Lowering Activities
And it’s not just about what you eat. Here are a few activities you can do or not do to help improve your cholesterol.
- Aerobic Activity
- Dealing with Personal Anger Issues
- Losing extra weight
- Not smoking
Cholesterol disease is ultimately about blood. Accumulated ‘bad’ fats in solution (blood) is what is viewed as its cause. Most westerners see the Heart as the King of the blood, for the organs primary purpose of regulating the flow of vital blood that keeps us alive.
While this view is the same in the Chinese medical system, they also view the Liver as the General of the Blood. This is because the liver is so important for the cleanliness of the blood. The Heart could not work properly with toxic blood coursing through it.
The liver actually produces 75% of the cholesterol the body needs. The rest comes from the foods you eat. Because of this, if the body is not getting that approximately 25% of cholesterols from foods, the liver will kick production into high gear. This will, in the long run, result in higher blood cholesterol levels. This is why low-fat or no-fat diets will in general lead to high cholesterol levels. Consumption of healthy cholesterol sources of food is important for the proper balancing of your body’s cholesterol levels.
Liver health is thus essential for healthy cholesterol levels. The liver detoxes the body in addition to its many other functions such as cholesterol production and bile secretion.
A buildup of toxins in the liver will impair its function, so the elimination of these toxins will only help your liver properly work better. Our environment is grossly oversaturated with chemicals and toxins nowadays, so it has become even more important to help the liver out.
Certain herbs that help detox the body of heavy metals, pesticides, and other aberrant chemicals will help all the entire bodies systems normalize functions by increasing the power of the liver. Some of these herbs (called hepatoprotectants) include:
- Pine Pollen
- Yellow Dock Root
- Chicory Root
- Milk Thistle Seed (a note: this is a potent Western herb for regeneration of the liver as has been found in studies)
Another way to lower high cholesterol levels is to get the liver to produce more bile. Increased bile stimulation will pull off some of the build-up of cholesterol in the body much like opening a faucet on a sink to lower overall pressure will in a water system. On average, the colon will reabsorb half of the cholesterol secreted as bile. The rest becomes excrement. This mode of excretion is an important route of detoxification for the liver. Herbs that can stimulate the release of bile (called cholagogues) include:
- Coffee Beans
- Artichoke Leaf
- Dandelion Root
- Burdock Root
- Echinacea Root
- Eucommia Bark
- Lonicera Flowers
- Chrysanthemum Flowers
In the West, cholesterol health is a keystone health indicator. However, the evaluation of one standard health point cannot usually be treated with one method of attack as that one point is generally caused by a cosmology of environmental triggers, unresolved emotional issues, activity levels (or lack thereof), mental attitude, hydration, etc. This is perhaps best shown in many people’s inability to take prescription statin drugs because of the side effects involved.
Instead, the best way to change this one indicator is through a cosmology of sound lifestyle choices that will affect the whole being in the positive and help us become better able to adapt to life in general.