Updated: March 2023
I have been seeing so many new patients with high cholesterol that I felt it was important to write an article on the natural approach for cholesterol control and regulation.
I am going to include some dietary measures for helping lower cholesterol naturally. However, as I’ve written about in other articles, I want to emphasize that that cholesterol is not necessarily bad.
If cholesterol is high, there is a reason for it. Go to the cause of the problem and then you’re doing something great.
Additionally, cholesterol that is too low is an “ominous sign” of poor health. Cholesterol below 140 is unhealthy because the body needs cholesterol to heal and repair. So, it’s not just high cholesterol that can be a problem but low cholesterol as well.
As my subscribers and patients know, I’m a natural Doctor. I focus on prevention of disease and improving health without medications or surgery. However, I do agree that medication is sometimes necessary.
Is Cholesterol Medication Necessary for Managing High Cholesterol?
I don’t want to be hypocritical, because I just said that medication is sometimes necessary even though I absolutely refuse to take it myself. The reality is that sometimes when the flames are blazing, water needs to be put on the fire.
Medication is sometimes that water. But, I believe that pharmaceutical intervention should be a short term intervention instead of a lifetime approach.
I don’t take any medications (over the counter or prescription) and neither does a single member of my family. I personally don’t plan on it either. Poor health can’t be “pilled” away.
In fact, read the side effects of medications. It’s unbelievable. One medication may cause dry eyes. So, you take something for dry eyes that has a side effect of raising uric acid. Uric acid causes gout but also causes hardening of the arteries. Hardening of the arteries causes cardiovascular disease. Get it?
Are Oats and Fiber Good for Lowering Cholesterol?
As I did some research to compose a comprehensive list of foods that are good for lowering cholesterol, I saw an immediate controversy. Oats are at the top of the list for lowering cholesterol due to their high fiber content.
It’s true. Fiber is good for lowering cholesterol. Oats are a great source of fiber and can help lower cholesterol. However, it is critically important to understand that oats can cause a huge spike in blood sugar. The corresponding crash of low blood sugar can sometimes be steeper than a roller coaster.
The immediate surge in blood sugar can lead to an insulin response. The pancreas will release more insulin which can cause a rapid uptake of glucose (sugar) into your cells.
When an increase in insulin causes most of the sugar to leave the blood and go into the cells, it can cause a drop in blood sugar (reactive hypoglycemia).
Symptoms of Hypoglycemia
- light headedness
- increased heart rate
I think back to about 10 years ago. I was carrying a few extra pounds and I ate oats every morning. I got creative and put blueberries, mangoes and other fruit in the oats.
I could not lose any weight at all! It was really frustrating. I ate oats with no sweetener and various fruits every day and I think I actually gained weight. I thought I was doing something healthy for myself and I was actually creating a hypoglycemic response that led to weight retention.
I tell my patients to stay away from oats! The overall problem created by peaks and valleys of blood sugar dysregulation is that it is a major driver of inflammation in the body and therefore – a major driver of all disease processes.
Therefore, if you want to be healthier and less inflamed, don’t eat oats.
I know I am being repetitious here, but when it comes to issues like high cholesterol, statin drugs are not the “cure all”. They have many side effects and can sometimes lead to long term health problems for otherwise healthy individuals.
Let’s be blatantly honest. As people age, they develop arthritis. Some people will get more arthritis than others. Arthritis is an inflammatory driven disease. The more chronic inflammation someone has, the more arthritis they will develop.
People with arthritis are going to have joint and muscle pains. But, one of the most common side effects of statin drugs is joint and muscle aches and pains.
A common side effect of statin medications is a condition called Rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis is a breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue. Loss of lean muscle mass can cause a cascade of health problems.
If you have arthritis pains and aches, and you are taking a statin drug to lower cholesterol, you could be having combined joint and muscle pain from both your arthritis but also the statin medications.
Why is LDL Cholesterol Bad?
Your body needs cholesterol. Your brain is made up of sterols from cholesterol. Your body even needs the “bad” cholesterol which is called low density lipoprotein “LDL” cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol because it has a higher fat and lower protein content than HDL cholesterol.
However, LDL is the transport molecule that your liver uses to transport fats to tissues in the body. If you don’t have enough LDL “bad” cholesterol, you will die.
Problems start to arise when cholesterol levels go too high. That is a definite risk for cardiovascular disease such as atherosclerosis and events such as heart attack or stroke.
For most people, there are natural alternatives to help maintain normal cholesterol and stay healthy without the use of statins. Some of them are by eating cholesterol lowering foods (some of which I will list below).
How can Thyroid Hormones Affect Cholesterol?
Another very common cause of high cholesterol is when people have thyroid dysfunction. Actually, a person’s thyroid gland may be working completely normal and be producing the right amount of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH).
Health problems such as high cholesterol can occur when people have improper conversion or under-conversion of T4 to T3 in the liver and muscles.
Your thyroid gland could be working perfectly, but you could still have a problem with the utilization and breakdown of thyroid hormones and therefore have a “thyroid” problem.
Routine lab testing isn’t enough to paint a clear picture of thyroid health and thyroid hormone conversion. If you don’t have all of the necessary tests, how can you know what is going on?
You may be asking, “How could the thyroid affect cholesterol?” The thyroid gland controls metabolism of all tissues in the body. Your liver makes cholesterol and the cholesterol is released into the body so that it can help with tissue repair, etc…
If your metabolism is low, then the tissues won’t metabolize your cholesterol and therefore, won’t break it down. Over time this can cause elevation of cholesterol in the bloodstream which is “high total cholesterol”.
If your thyroid hormone system is not functioning properly, then you will feel sick. What is sick? Tired, fatigued, no energy, thinning hair, constipation, hard to lose weight, tough skin, low sex drive, loss of the outer third of the eyebrow, fungal toenails, and many, many other symptoms.
What is Functional Hypothyroid?
A large percentage of the population is “sub-clinical or functional hypothyroid” which means that their laboratory values are within normal “clinical” range but low when it comes to a functional standpoint.
Functional hypothyroid patients may not have any of the symptoms that I just listed but those symptoms could very well be on their way if nothing is done about it. Even though high cholesterol isn’t one of the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, it is most certainly a possible sign.
What is the Difference Between a Sign and a Symptom of Hypothyroidism?
There is a difference between a sign and a symptom. A sign is something you see on lab testing, etc… A symptom is something you experience.
An example of possible signs of hypothyroidism on a blood work would be high TSH, low T3, and high Reverse T3. The symptoms of hypothyroidism could be thinning hair, constipation, chronic fatigue, inability to lose weight, high cholesterol, etc…
I’ve said it many times, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is important to identify these types of problems early on before they cascade into many other health problems.
I work with functional medicine patients from around the world and most of them have thyroid health problems. It is not uncommon to see someone’s cholesterol lower by up to 100 points after improving thyroid system health and reducing chronic inflammation.
It can take some time and an exercise of patience for both the patient and myself, but most people can greatly improve their health with some hard work and elbow grease.
List of Cholesterol Lowering Foods:
- Red Wine
- Olive Oil
I do want to reiterate that the foods in this list are a good starting point but should be used as an initial strategy. If you are hypothyroid, address it. If you are inflamed, address it.
Foods and supplementation can be used cover up health problems just the same as medications. It’s important to go the cause of the problem and make change there.
However, a short term approach to get things headed in the right direction is sometimes necessary. That’s where the list of cholesterol lowering foods could be helpful.
Health is Happiness,
Dr. Keith Currie