Cholesterol, Atherosclerosis, and Heart Issues
Cholesterol and Atherosclerosis - Despite all the recent advances in drug and surgical treatment, heart attacks and strokes continue to be the number one cause of death in this country. Almost two million people die from these diseases every year.
Both heart attacks and strokes have the same common cause - atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. As we get older, arteries become narrower because of the accumulation of fatty plaques. More deposited plaque means less blood flow.
Eventually, as the arteries become too narrow, blood does not flow at all. This is what causes a heart attack or stroke.
In a recent issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, John C. LaRosa, M.D. of Tulane University Medical Center, New Orleans, LA, stated that "Elevated cholesterol level is the single most important factor" in promoting the hardening of the arteries.
In other words, controlling your cholesterol is the most important step you can take in prevention of the condition that kills more people every year than many other diseases combined.
When Should You Become Concerned About Your Cholesterol?
The answer is NOW! A recent study published in New England Journal of Medicine, examined people who died from trauma between the ages of 2 and 39. Much to the researchers' surprise, these young people already had extensive fatty deposits on their arteries. As much as 11% of coronary arteries were covered with plaques.
Just imagine what must happen by the time we reach the age of 50 or 60. This process becomes much more widespread, interfering with the blood flow and causing the death of almost 2 million people yearly.
In 1993, the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel issued an updated set of recommendations for normal cholesterol levels. According to NCEP, total cholesterol should be under 200, HDL (good cholesterol) should be over 35 and LDL (bad cholesterol) should be under 130.
However, a recent study in the journal Circulation has demonstrated that cholesterol levels at the upper end of the normal range (180 to 200) may lead to blood vessel damage and should be abandoned in favor of a lower "desirable" range.
They found that the arteries of people with cholesterol levels considered "high-normal" do not dilate normally - thus increasing their risk of heart disease or stroke.
The Danger of Cholesterol Drugs
Armed with this information, the pharmaceutical companies have rushed to produce many different "cholesterol lowering" drugs. The most widely used drugs act by blocking cholesterol production in the liver. Some of them are Lovastatin (MEVACOR), Pravastatin (PRAVACHOL), Simvastatin (ZOCOR), and fluvastatin (LESCOL). These drugs are sometimes simply called "statins."
Cholesterol lowering drugs are a double-edged sword. Statins decrease total cholesterol by up to 25% and increase the HDL by up to 10%. Studies show that this can decrease the risk of a heart attack by as much as 35%.
However, like any medication, the "statins" have many side effects. The most important one is the effect on the liver. Patients taking these drugs are advised to check their liver function at least every three months, because of a possibility of severe liver damage.
In addition, decreasing blood cholesterol with drugs has been linked to an even more serious side effect. Recently, the American College of Physicians issued guidelines regarding the use of cholesterol lowering medications.
They indicate that all the available data suggests that there is an increase in non-cardiovascular mortality in patients who use cholesterol-lowering drugs.
In other words, your risk of getting a heart attack is decreased, but you have a much higher risk of dying from another cause.
A natural alternative to treat cholesterol
This is not exactly an ideal way to deal with the cholesterol problem. That is why medications to people with elevated cholesterol levels are recommended.
Instead, a combination of natural substances that have the same, or even better effects, without all of the side effects. A number of these substances have been used for many decades with the specific goal of improving the metabolism of cholesterol and triglycerides.
Gugulipids are the extract of the Commiphora Mukul tree that grows in India. Over 20 clinical studies have shown that Gugulipids can lower total cholesterol, decrease LDL and triglycerides and increase the HDL level. Gugulipids are just as effective in reducing cholesterol as lipid-lowering drugs but without the side effects.
Chromium is well known for its positive effect on blood lipids and blood sugar level.
Garlic and Borage oil decrease the LDL cholesterol while increasing the level of the HDL cholesterol.