Elevated levels of cholesterol and other blood fats in response to inflammation can contribute to heart disease, arterial clogging and cardiovascular diseases. However, as I have mentioned before, this area is riddled with confusion because of less attention to inflammation, and overreliance on chemical blockage of cholesterol formation in the liver (using statin drugs) based upon readings of skewed blood cholesterol tests. See this site for more info on this subject.
Simply stated, cholesterol is not really bad or good; It is an essential component in the vast biochemistry of the body, and is part of every living cell. Your brain, for example, is largely made of cholesterol. All your bile salts and all your hormones are manufactured with the help of cholesterol, and few people want a smaller brain or less starting material for hormones. Cholesterol does go up with age, lowered thyroid function and increased inflammation. However, the numbers called “normal” cholesterol appear to have been artificially lowered, and it appears few people have been questioning this move. If “normal” cholesterol is from 100-200, then by definition we should be seeing a lot of people with cholesterol below 100 – but there are few or none. This is because 100-200 is not normal – the older numbers used in the past, where normal cholesterol was between 140 and 240, are more in line with reality.
A better way to understand all of this is to concentrate on lowering overall inflammation rather than lowering cholesterol. With less inflammation there is less damage to the linings of the arteries, and thus less need for the body to repair the damage by putting down plaques or forming clots, the real root causes of heart disease.
Another area of misunderstanding are the “forms” of cholesterol. Because fat does not dissolve in the blood, carriers are needed, called lipo-proteins such as HDL and LDL. Measuring these should give more insight, but usually is used to create more chances of failing the tests and justify the need for drugs. Using these tests without understanding their real meanings thus supports the huge industry that has developed surrounding the Western cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins. However, because the numbers on the tests are really too low, everyone now apparently needs the drugs. Few know that there is serious doubt about the benefits of statin drugs on improving total mortality as opposed to reduction of heart attack risk. Read more here. This is an important distinction, otherwise jumping out of an airplane without a parachute would be a 100% effective therapy for avoiding death from cancer (it never fails because after you jump you never die of cancer).
As well, most people are aware that cholesterol lowering drugs pose a variety of dangers to the liver, as well as a whole slew of side effects such as lowered production of CoEnzyme q10, and higher rates of neuropathy and memory loss. While the cholesterol numbers called HDL, LDL, triglycerides and VLDL can be used to gain understanding, it requires a clear understanding of their real meaning, and well as perspective in the overall scheme of things. A clear example of this is the now defunct “blockbuster” Pfizer drug that raised the good HDL that is supposed to lower heart attacks. The drug did raise HDL, but was pulled because it paradoxically caused more heart attacks.
Rather than lowering cholesterol, a better purpose is to concentrate instead on lowering the deeper problems such as inflammation, plaque formation, sticky mucus and clots. You will not be successful if you want to just lower cholesterol. This is because herbs, vitamins and fish oils can all lower inflammation and reduce risk of heart attacks, but only statin drugs can directly block cholesterol formation. So the real question is whether you want (A) less heart attack risk or (B) lower cholesterol. If you want (A) then fish oils, vitamin E, and a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables will help you. If you want (B) then you wil need drugs that block cholesterol formation.
Okay, so How Do I Understand Blood Fats?
As is so often the case, we can gain some perspective by looking back at our roots. Both TCM and Ayurveda have listed the signs and symptoms of excess fatty inflammatory substances in the blood – heaviness, sluggishness, a slippery pulse, greasy coating on the tongue, weight gain etc. For this problems use the diet listed for excess mucus, along with herbs and vitamins that help regulate mucus, congestion, inflammation and sluggishness.
Regulating Blood Fats with Herbs
Herbs that help regulate blood fats as well as reducing contributory inflammation include guggul gum, arjuna bark, turmeric root, ginger root, black pepper, garlic bulb, hawthorn, arjuna, pinellia tuber, tangerine peel and shou wu root. I often mix these herbs together along with some triphala to reduce inflammation if I see signs of blood fat abnormalities, though the numbers I use are more liberal than those used by most doctors. I use about 4-5 grams of concentrated powder extracts of these herbs per day. It is often helpful to increase dietary intake of beans as well. If you must use cholesterol-lowering drugs, remember that milk thistle seed, turmeric root and CoQ10 can help keep the liver healthy.
Don’t Forget the Lymph System
Holistic physician Gerald Lemole, MD, chief of cardiac surgery at Christiana Care in Wilmington, Delaware, noted that German athletes recovered more quickly during Olympic competition in part due to massage. Dr. Lemole reported that lymphostasis may be a hidden cause of arteriosclerosis, because the more quickly the lipoproteins and cholesterol are cleared from the system, the less time they are in contact with the vessel linings where they can cause damage (Lemole, 1981). Massage, Yoga T’ai Chi and just plain old exercise can increase lymphatic flow by as much as 300%. Severe lymphostasis can be treated with castor oil packs.