Cholesterol and You

Lifestyle Notes

Volume CIV, No. 2February, 2004

Dr. Diane Gioia-Bargonetti

(This article, submitted by a Local 802 member, contains advice and suggestions intended to improve one’s health and well-being. Local 802 and Allegro offer no endorsement or recommendation regarding the efficacy or safety of any of the remedies suggested, and readers may wish to consult their healthcare professional before following the advice offered herein.)

With so many people in this country taking prescription drugs for cholesterol problems, it might be time to embrace other ways of approaching this health concern. Remember, the whole point of alternative or holistic medicine is to get to the source of the problem and not just treat the symptoms.

You’ve probably heard over and over to “reduce your cholesterol.” But you already have cholesterol – and you always will. Every person’s liver produces cholesterol. But you add more cholesterol to your body when you eat certain foods. For instance, meat contains cholesterol but vegetables don’t.

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy fat particle (otherwise called a lipid) circulating in the blood. It is an important part of a healthy body. Among other things, it’s used to form cell membranes, some hormones, and bile acids for fat digestion.

Although it’s normal to have cholesterol, it is estimated that one in five Americans suffer from high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) and is therefore at risk for heart disease.

High cholesterol causes plaque to form and accumulate in the arteries, which leads to blockages called atherosclerosis. These blockages increase the risk of circulation problems, heart attack, stroke and even death.

Even if you are healthy, you may have high cholesterol, as it does not produce any symptoms in your body.

Heredity and lifestyle definitely affect your blood cholesterol levels. So, although I will give you some lifestyle adjustment suggestions, if your family history reveals a tendency towards high cholesterol, check with your health care professional and get your levels tested.


After you get tested for cholesterol, your friends might ask you, “What’s your number?” Your total number is the level of total serum cholesterol. A good reading is 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) of blood or below. A reading between 200 and 239 indicates an increased potential for developing heart disease. A reading over 240 is considered high risk.

However, most physicians don’t pay much attention to total cholesterol anymore. Why? Your HDL and LDL numbers are more important than total number. If you don’t know about HDL and LDL, read on.

Cholesterol and other fats can’t dissolve in the blood. They have to be transported to and from the cells by special carriers called lipoproteins. There are two kinds of lipoproteins that you need to be concerned with.

Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as the “bad” cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol can clog your arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. (Levels should be below 130 mg/dl.)

High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as the “good” cholesterol. Your body makes HDL cholesterol for your protection as it travels away from your arteries. (Normal levels are between 40-60 mg/dl.) It appears that higher levels (60-80 mg/dl) may actually protect against heart disease. Conversely, HDL levels less than 40 mg/dl are considered risky. Simply put, as your HDL decreases, your potential for heart problems intensifies, even if your total cholesterol reading is on the low side.

Basically, you want your HDL (“good” cholesterol) to be high and your LDL (“bad” cholesterol) to be low. Remember to fast for 9 to 12 hours before being tested to ensure accurate HDL and LDL readings.

One more thing. When you get your cholesterol checked, your report may refer to triglycerides. Triglycerides are sugar-related blood fats that travel with cholesterol. High triglyceride levels can cause blood cells to “stick” together and are therefore considered an independent risk factor for heart disease. A normal triglyceride reading is less than 150 mg/dl.


Meat and dairy products are primary sources of cholesterol. Unfortunately, those foods both contain cholesterol and also cause your body to produce LDL cholesterol.

On the other hand, vegetables and fruits are free of cholesterol.

Avoid butter, and if you use margarine as a substitute, carefully read the labels to choose a spread made with unsaturated fats – and even then, go easy with it. Low-fat cooking sprays also help keep your fat intake to a minimum.

In large amounts, coffee can elevate blood cholesterol levels, as can nondairy coffee creamers – use soymilk or almond milk as a substitute.

Although convenient, processed and prepared foods can be high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Foods to watch out for include store-bought cookies, cakes, pastries and muffins.

Even if a package says “no cholesterol,” the product may still have a negative effect on your cholesterol level. For instance, both sugar and alcohol don’t contain cholesterol. However, both raise the level of natural cholesterol which your body produces.

Stress also results in an overproduction of natural cholesterol. B complex vitamins in your multi help deal with stress.


  • Cigarette smoking.
  • High blood pressure. (Try massage for stress-related hypertension.)
  • Weight. Extra weight may raise your LDL and total cholesterol.
  • Exercise. People who get regular exercise often have lower total cholesterol levels.


Eat more apples, pears, bananas, grapes, carrots, coldwater fish, dried beans, garlic and grapefruit.

Get plenty of fiber from barley, beans, brown rice, fruits and oats. Oat bran and brown rice bran are the best foods for lowering cholesterol. (Fiber drains minerals from your system, so make sure your multi-vitamin contains minerals.)

Drink fresh juices like carrot, celery and beet. (Carrot juice is particularly wonderful as it flushes out fat from the bile in the liver and thus helps lower cholesterol.)

Use only unrefined cold- or expeller-pressed oils. (Olive oil is highly recommended.)

Studies show that green tea extract is a useful adjunct to lowering LDL in people with high cholesterol already on a low-fat diet. Drinking the tea is fine but you get a more concentrated dosage of the healing extracts with the supplement.

I have mentioned essential fatty acids (which are deficient in the American diet) a number of times in my articles. They play a role in keeping you healthy, supporting brain functions, hormonal conditions and taming high cholesterol. Natural sources include: primrose, hemp, borage, black currant, or flaxseed oils; coldwater fish like salmon, bluefish, herring, mackerel and tuna; and walnuts. Since the body doesn’t make the EFA’s, you can always supplement with a complete EFA formula, like Omega 3’s and 6’s.


Red yeast rice extract is an Asian dietary staple made by fermenting red yeast (Monascus purpureus) on rice. Red yeast rice has a number of heart-healthy benefits as its careful fermentation process yields statins, the compounds largely held responsible for reducing cholesterol levels, lowering levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, increasing levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and lowering levels of the unhealthy fats, triglycerides. It appears to accomplish this by restricting the liver’s production of cholesterol. The compound responsible for this effect – mevinolin – is chemically identical to the cholesterol-lowering compound lovastatin, which is sold as the prescription drug Mevacor. (The FDA is attempting to remove this supplement from shelves, making it available only through prescription.) Do not take red yeast rice extract without consulting with your doctor (especially if you are taking a pharmaceutical statin). Also, take this supplement with a meal. Chromium picolinate lowers total cholesterol levels as well as improves HDL/LDL ratio. (Natural sources include whole grains and brewer’s yeast.)

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it actually becomes part of an LDL particle in the bloodstream, preventing the LDL from oxidizing or going rancid and thus clogging arteries. With plenty of Vitamin E around, the LDL particle harmlessly passes into the artery wall instead of forming plaque. Use only under professional supervision, especially if you have high blood pressure. Natural sources for Vitamin E include nuts and wheat germ.

Blood levels of Vitamin C and HDL were tested in 1,372 men and women at Tufts. Those who had the highest levels of Vitamin C in their blood had 10 percent more HDL than those with the lowest Vitamin C levels. Vitamin C acts as a helper by regenerating Vitamin E when stores are low. Natural sources for Vitamin C include citrus fruits, peppers, green vegetables and tomatoes.

You may not have heard of Coenzyme Q10, but your body already produces it. CoQ10 improves circulation, preserves the antioxidant action of Vitamin C and may prevent atherosclerosis. Natural sources of CoQ10 include spinach and peanuts.