Diet diary: The natural alternatives to cholesterol-lowering drugs

Statins are a group of cholesterol-lowering drugs, prescribed to prevent heart disease but increased awareness to their side effects has forced many individuals to look for natural alternatives. The natural statins work as adjuncts to conventional therapy for those with heart disease and those with high cholesterol, even in individuals for whom high cholesterol is familial.

A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that eating certain food could lower your cholesterol levels just as well as statin drugs. It also reported that these foods are as effective, if not more than the statin drugs.

Cholesterol-lowering food components include dietary fibres, good fats, phytosterols and some vitamins. In this particular study, researchers found that foods such as soy protein, tofu, various other soy products, nuts and cereal fiber, as well as plant sterols, can lower total cholesterol and especially LDL cholesterol, better than statin drugs.

Other less commonly known compounds and nutrients with cholesterol lowering benefits include probiotics like lactobacillus (obtained from fermented food products), guggulipids, red yeast rice, policosanol (found in jagerry and sugar cane), grape seed extract, cinnamon, turmeric, niacin, Pantethine and vitamin C.

Dietary fibre, specially soluble fibre, has particularly been shown to significantly lower cholesterol LDL (bad cholesterol) while levels of good cholesterol ( HDL ) remain unchanged and help prevent heart disease. Soluble fibre can be found in foods such as oats, barley, legumes (peas, beans), fruits (apples, prunes, and berries) and vegetables (carrots, broccoli, yams).

Interestingly, oatmeal is the only whole grain food recognized by the FDA to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, thereby having the licence to claim heart-protective ingredients in its food labels. Psyllium husk has also been known to exhibit cardio-protective role due to its high fibre content and beta-sitosterol (a plant sterol).

Good fat

Accumulating data from observational and clinical trials have reported that omega-3 fats actually reduce risk of heart disease by reducing triglycerides and total cholesterol.

Phytosterols

Are plant sterols or stanols similar to cholesterol that act in the intestines to lower cholesterol absorption. They are most commonly found in fruits, vegetables including figs, avocados, nuts, oilseeds, oils such as rice bran, olive oil and whole grains including barley, oats and wholewheat.

Natural remedies

Guuggulipid or Indian Bedellium has been a mainstay of traditional Indian herbal medicine (Ayurveda) approaches in preventing high cholesterol and atherosclerosis.

Author is a clinical nutritionist and founder of http://www.theweightmonitor.com and Whole Foods India