Understanding Triglycerides and Cholesterol
Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exists in food as well as in the body. They are also present in the bloodstream. Triglycerides are made from fats eaten in food. They are also made in the body from other energy sources like carbohydrates. Calories ingested in a meal and not used immediately by tissues are converted to triglycerides and transported to fat cells to be stored. Hormones regulate the release of triglycerides from fat tissue so they meet the body’s needs for energy between meals. Excess levels of Triglycerides thicken the blood and make it sticky, which increases the possibility of clotting and blockage which could eventually lead to a heart attack or a stroke. People with high triglycerides, often have high total cholesterol, high LDL, and low HDL.
What are Cholesterol, HDL and LDL?
Cholesterol is a wax-like substance. It is fat made by the liver. Some cholesterol is needed for good health (it is essential for the formation of cell membranes, hormones and vitamin D). Too much cholesterol in the blood leads to problems. The extra cholesterol in the blood may be stored in the arteries and cause them to narrow. Large deposits block an artery. When an artery that supplies blood to the heart is blocked it causes a heart attack and when an artery that supplies blood to the brain is blocked it causes a stroke.
Cholesterol travels in the blood through carrier proteins called lipoproteins, which help it dissolve in blood and be transported to all parts of the body. Low-density lipoprotein or LDL delivers cholesterol to the body and hence is called the bad cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein HDL, removes cholesterol from the bloodstream and hence is called the good cholesterol. Fortunately, the build-up of cholesterol and triglycerides can be slowed, stopped and sometimes even reversed.
Triglyceride levels are directly influenced by what we eat. Anything that increases blood glucose increases triglycerides. Hence, the most important step is to lower carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates can be simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates like alcohol, honey and sugar have no nutritional value. Complex carbohydrates, which are also known as starches, are often very nutritious. Beans, fruits, grains and vegetables consist mostly of complex carbohydrates. Simple and complex carbohydrates can be refined or unrefined. Refined carbohydrates are carbohydrates that have their fiber, bran and other nutrients removed while being transformed from their original form. Therefore people with high-risk triglycerides should eat less white bread, white pasta and white rice as well as less baked food. The right carbohydrates would be fruits and vegetables in their original form, which can reduce triglyceride levels because they are unrefined carbohydrates. The best choices are the ones with less fat and fewer overall calories. Most of the food that lowers cholesterol are also good to lower triglycerides.
Understanding Dietary Fats
One of the most important determinants of blood cholesterol level is fat in the diet. Lately, research has shown that it is not how much fat, but the specific type of fat that determines blood cholesterol. Research shows that some types of fat are clearly good for blood cholesterol, while some are bad. There are the good fats, the bad fats and the ugly fats.
The Good Fats
The good fats are monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats. A concentration of polyunsaturated fats can be found in sunflower oil, corn oil and soyabean oil. Fish is an important source of polyunsaturated fat known as Omega-3. A high concentration of monounsaturated fat is found in canola oil, peanut oil and olive oil. Both these types of fat lower the risk of heart disease.
The Bad Fats
Saturated fats are mainly animal fats. They are solid at room temperature and are found in meat, seafood, whole-milk dairy products (cheese, cream and ice cream), poultry skin and egg yolks. Some plant foods are also high in saturated fats like coconut and coconut oil. Saturated fats raise both the good cholesterol (HDL) and the bad cholesterol (LDL).
The Ugly Fats
Transfats are fats produced by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen. These hydrogenated fats are worse for cholesterol levels than saturated fats as they not only raise LDL but also lower HDL, which is good cholesterol. Most processed foods and commercially prepared fried and baked food contain trans fat. The daily intake of about 5 gm of transfat leads to a 25% increase in the risk of heart disease according to research on the subject.
Natural Food That Fight Cholesterol
1. Omega-3 fatty acids health benefits for cholesterol
Research shows that Omega – 3 fatty acids lower triglycerides. There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids. The first type is Alpha-linolenic acid (ACA) which comes from vegetative sources like flaxseed, soybeans, pumpkin seed and sunflower seeds. It is also found in walnuts, dairy products, beans, broccoli, and green leafy vegetables but to a lesser extent. The second type of Omega-3 comes from the ocean. It includes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and decosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and bluefin tuna. Research shows that EPA and DHA, the types found in fish are more effective. But you need to eat a lot of fish to meet the requirements, hence a fish oil supplement that has 2 – 4 gms of EPA and DHA is recommended, which can greatly improve the triglyceride levels.
2. Health benefits of Fibre to fight cholesterol
Fibre works in the intestines by binding cholesterol so that it cannot be absorbed and helps the ingested food to move through the tract more quickly so that there is simply less time for the cholesterol to be absorbed. The best sources of fibre are bran, spinach, almonds, kidney beans, apples, cabbage and peas. The most valuable sources of fibre for reducing high levels of blood fat seems to be oats bran, apples and alfalfa. Fibre also helps eliminate constipation. Straining at tools trigger an unusually high number of heart attacks in older people. Studies have shown that hearts are happier with vegetarian diets. This may be because they eat more fibre than non-vegetarians. A study conducted by Dutch researchers with 871 middle-aged men in the town of Zutphen, in the Netherlands, found that the heart attack rate for those who ate the least amount of fibre a day (27gms or less) was four times greater than for those who ate the most fibre (37gms or more)
Thai doctors have found that capsicum helps against thromboembolism (a fatal blockage of a blood vessel by a clot transported by the bloodstream from some other part of the body). Capsicum causes an increase in fibrinolytic activity (a natural process that helps resist the formation of large and dangerous clots by dissolving them when they are still small). They also found that capsicum works not only when it is eaten, but also when it is held in the mouth for a short time. The effect is rapid and short-lived – for about 10 mins. But even a temporary increase in fibrinolytic activity might be enough to break up little clots. It also produces a temporary reduction in the coagulability of blood so that no clots are created in the first place.
4. Herbs and Spices
Several herbs and spices like fenugreek seeds and leaves, holy basil, ginger, turmeric and garlic help lower cholesterol. Nuts like almonds and walnuts, that are high in fibre should replace foods high in saturated fat. To control and maintain cholesterol levels, minimize consumption of animal products including dairy products as animal foods (other than fish) are high in saturated fatty acids and dietary cholesterol. Eat a lot of anti-oxidant foods such as strawberries, apples, nuts, carrots, broccoli and spinach.
Home Remedies to fight Cholesterol
Boil water with 2 tsp coriander seed. Strain and drink this water twice daily. It helps reduce cholesterol, flushes out toxins, and improves digestion.
Guggulu (Commiphora mukul) is effective in lowering cholesterol. Studies investigating the hypolipidemic benefits of gum guggul show that it can reduce cholesterol levels by 14-27% and lower triglycerides by 22-30%. It is also said to increase good cholesterol (HDL). There is a difference in the outcomes of Indian and Western studies. While Indian studies have found strong evidence to support this fact, western studies have not found it to be so. This difference is being attributed to the difference in diet followed.
Green tea is said to have hypo-cholesterolemic properties. Researchers have found that the consumption of green tea reduces both LDL and total cholesterol. Polyphenols in green tea are said to block the intestinal absorption of cholesterol and promote its excretion from the body. It also inhibits the abnormal formation of blood clots.
Arjuna is said to have the ability to contain the blood’s absorption of lipids and thus regulates cholesterol. It possesses hypolipidemic properties. Arjuna is rich in co-enzyme Q-10 (CoQ10) that helps lower LDL cholesterol and enhances HDL recovery. Take 1 to 2 capsules per day of Arjun (Terminalia arjuna) extract available in capsule form.
Artichoke is an old traditional home remedy. It has been established that artichokes have the cholesterol-lowering ability. A German study on a group of volunteers, in which they were given artichoke extract for 6 weeks showed that it lowered total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol by 18.5% and 22.9% respectively. The effect on HDL and triglycerides however were minimal.
Apart from having the right kind of food, some other measures one can take is to maintain a healthy weight, quit smoking, eat a low-fat, low-salt diet that includes many fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Exercise or walk every day for at least 30 minutes and avoid alcohol if you can.
Arun Bordia an Indian physician, reported that when ten healthy volunteers took hefty doses of garlic oil for several months, the fibrinolytic activity of their blood eventually doubled. He also found that garlic makes blood platelets less sticky so they won’t get all jammed together in a clot so easily. A high level of fibrinolytic activity is especially important for people who have heart attacks – to prevent recurrences. Garlic also lowers cholesterol in the blood by singling out the especially harmful LDL fraction. The HDL is left alone. Crush a couple of garlic and let it stand for a few minutes, then have it early in the morning on an empty stomach. It helps to break up cholesterol in the blood vessels and helps prevent the hardening of arteries. (The Practical Encyclopedia of Natural Healing by Mark Bricklin)
To know more about garlic and its therapeutic properties click here.
Another important herb that makes the heart happy is onion. Onions too have demonstrated the ability to increase fibrinolytic activity. They have the additional property of being able to reduce elevated cholesterol levels. Research by Indian physicians indicates that routine onion consumption has a beneficial effect on maintaining blood fat at low or normal levels. They also found that the beneficial properties of onions are not destroyed by heat and is not soluble in water. A research team at the George Washington School of Medicine has determined that members of the allium family – onions and garlic contain chemically similar compounds. These compounds inhibit platelet aggregation by blocking the synthesis of a powerful clumping agent called thromboxane. Results showed that purified extracts of onion and garlic almost completely suppressed the synthesis of thromboxane. This is important because when heart attacks occur, blood flow to the heart may be cut off by tiny blood clots called thrombi.