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Episode 211: 6 Holistic Habits for Lowering Cholesterol Naturally

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Summary  

I recently had someone reach out on Instagram asking how to manage cholesterol without using statins (a woman after my own heart trying to avoid medication whenever possible).

And while this hasn't historically been a focus of mine - hence this being my first episode on the subject - I realized I've gotten a number of clients off their cholesterol medication without that even being a specific goal!

Because spoiler alert, the advice I'm going to share with you here is the same advice I would give to just about anyone with just about any health goal. 

Of course I think it's a lot easier to implement habits when we know why they're working, so you'll get the full run down of how these lifestyle shifts will support healthy cholesterol levels.

1. Prioritize fiber!

That means whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, and seeds! The fiber in plants binds to cholesterol in the small intestine and helps carry it out of your body through your stool, preventing it from getting into your bloodstream.

Soluble fiber is particularly beneficial because it forms a gel-like substance that traps the cholesterol. Some high-soluble-fiber foods include sweet potatoes, psyllium, artichoke, chickpeas, brussels sprouts, lentils, broccoli, apples, kidney beans, green beans, oats, avocado, raspberries, carrots, lima beans, and navy beans.

2. Choose healthy fats. 

Stick with avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, and olive oil to raise HDL (the good cholesterol). "HDL carries LDL (bad) cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where the LDL is broken down and passed from the body" - www.heart.org

Stay away from seed oils (what 99% of restaurants use to cook) and trans fats (anything listed as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated). Trans fats cause the liver to produce VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) which is a precursor to LDL. And seed oils increase oxidation. Why does that matter? Because oxidized LDL increases the risk of heart disease, non-oxidized LDL does not. 

3. Support your liver.

Your liver literally produces and clears cholesterol from the body, so we need it in tip top shape to do its job properly and maintain a healthy balance. Luckily we did an entire episode on how to support a healthy liver which you can find right here!

4. Reduce sugar, processed carbs, and alcohol.

You've probably heard a lot about saturated fat and cholesterol's role in raising cholesterol and increasing the risk for heart disease. Turns out a lot of that research was quietly funded by the sugar industry. 

But just like the 'fat makes you fat' myth was eventually debunked, people are starting to see the light and realizing cholesterol doesn't cause high cholesterol.

Not to say you should be eating a dozen eggs for breakfast and a filet for dinner every night, but you certainly don't need to cut those foods out altogether. Not when the real culprit is processed sugar (we're not talking about fruit here, studies show the consumption of fruit is associated with lower blood sugar and a lower risk for heart disease and stroke). 

In fact, we really got ourselves into a pickle during the low-fat era. Because while food companies were lowering the fat content of their products, they were adding ingredients like high fructose corn syrup to make up for the flavor. It's no wonder deaths from cardiovascular disease has almost doubled since 1990. 

When you consume more sugar than your body needs for energy, the excess sugar is converted into triglycerides, a type of fat associated with higher levels LDL particles.

High sugar intake can also lead to insulin resistance, where cells become less responsive to the effects of insulin. This leads to even more insulin being released which is linked to metabolic changes that can raise LDL levels.

Excessive sugar consumption also triggers inflammation in the body which can lead to changes in the blood vessels, making it easier for LDL cholesterol to become trapped in artery walls and contribute to plaque buildup.

5. Manage your stress.

If you've hung out with us before you now know that stress is a major player in virtually every health condition and high cholesterol is no different.

Stress causes the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline which prompt your liver to produce more LDL cholesterol.

It causes high blood pressure which contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, making the circulation of cholesterol more dangerous.

Stress triggers inflammation in the body which causes damage to blood vessels promoting the accumulation of cholesterol on artery walls.

AND stress hormones can impact other hormones that regulate cholesterol metabolism, leading to imbalances.

So do me a favor and take a quick pause to breathe. Inhale for 4, hold for 4, and exhale for 8. You know... for your cholesterol. 

 

6. Lose weight.

This is why I can't get on board with the idea of being 'healthy at any weight' - but we'll do a whole podcast episode on that soon. 

Being overweight is a co-morbidity and increases risk factors for so many conditions, including high cholesterol. 

Adipose tissue (fat cells) produces hormones and chemicals that stimulate the liver to produce more LDL  cholesterol.

Obesity is often associated with low levels of HDL, which you'll remember helps carry LDL out of the bloodstream and back to the liver. 

Obesity often leads to higher levels of triglycerides which are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and can impact cholesterol metabolism.

Excess weight, especially around the abdomen, can lead to fat accumulation in the liver making it harder to break down cholesterol.

And finally, obesity is associated with increase inflammation and insulin resistance which we already talked about can be problematic for cholesterol levels. 

See, I told you my advice was going to be pretty synonymous with any other health advice I'd give: eat a more whole-food/plant-forward diet, move your body, reduce stress, and reduce processed/sugary junk that you know isn't good for you! 

The action plan is simple, but usually the execution is not. That's where the plan bumps up against life. That's where we have to navigate stress eating, and long-ingrained habits, and cravings, and being busy and tired. 

Which is why telling you what to do is actually a pretty minimal part of my job. The meat of what I do as a functional nutrition practitioner is help you implement and help you remain consistent through all life throws at you. 

If you've known what to do but you haven't yet gotten yourself to do it over the long term, I invite you to book a free consultation to see if coaching is the right fit for you. 

Click here to books yours now!

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