Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells of the body. While cholesterol is essential, there is little need to consume it. The liver makes all of the cholesterol your body needs to create healthy cell membranes, Vitamin D, hormones like estrogen and testosterone, and bile, which aids in the digestion of fat in the intestines.
Cholesterol travels in the blood as lipoproteins, tiny molecules of fat wrapped in protein. There are two major types of cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL – the good kind), and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol). LDL contributes toward artery-clogging plaque. HDL, on the other hand, helps transport LDL from the bloodstream to the liver, where it can be removed from the body. This is why having high HDL is a good thing, but having high LDL is not.
Ayurveda adds another layer of understanding. It sees cholesterol as playing an important role in supporting and lubricating the circulatory channels (srotas), including the veins and arteries to the heart and the brain. Only when there is toxic residue (ama) in the body do lipoproteins manifest as symptoms, herego “bad” cholesterol. Toxic residue typically results from poor digestion, overeating, and/or eating processed food.
HOW DO CHOLESTEROL LEVELS AFFECT OUR HEALTH?
Too high of LDL levels can manifest as chest pain, although there may be no symptoms at all until a heart attack or stroke occurs. It is for this reason that cholesterol levels should be checked annually or bi-annually past the age of 40. Other indicators of high cholesterol include yellowish-white lumps under the skin, obesity, diabetes and hypertension.
Many medications contribute to high LDL levels. In addition, several conditions, such as kidney disease, hypothyroidism and diabetes mellitus (Type II diabetes), increase the concentration of lipids in the bloodstream, contributing to high cholesterol. To lower LDL levels, reduce animal fats, trans fats and processed foods that create ama, chew food thoroughly and eat a Kapha-reducing diet that focuses on consuming bitter, astringent and pungent foods.
While rare, cholesterol levels can occasionally become too low. This can happen due to medications, particularly statin drugs, or as a result of over-exercising and eating too little fat. Symptoms of low cholesterol levels include premature births and low birth weight, anxiety and depression. There was also a study done in 2012 that showed some relationship between low cholesterol and cancer risk, but more research needs to be done in this area. If your cholesterol levels are too low, visit a qualified medical practitioner for lifestyle and diet modifications.
The best way to balance cholesterol levels is to exercise regularly and consume moderate amounts of healthy fats. Specific foods that help reduce cholesterol are:
- Pulses or Legumes, preferably lentils, mung beans and garbanzo beans
- Nuts, particularly almonds and walnuts
- Fatty Fish, like salmon and mackarel
- Whole Grains, especially oatmeal and barley
- Fruits and Berries, particularly apples, grapefruit, citrus and strawberries
- Dark Chocolate and Cocoa (unsweetened)
- Soy Foods
- High-Pectin Vegetables, like okra, eggplant, carrots and potatoes
- Black, White & Green Tea
- Dark Leafy Greens, like kale and spinach
- Healthy Oils, such as Olive Oil and Ghee (clarified butter, the traditional oil of Ayurveda)
- Wheat Germ. If you are not gluten-sensitive, one tablespoon per day has been shown to help reduce LDL levels.
The sole purpose of this article is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at info@positivelyayurvedic.