Curbing Cholesterol Helps More Than Your Heart

March 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Health

Keeping cholesterol levels low is something that most doctors are very hot on – mine certainly is – and despite my recent piece on chocolate helping with cholesterol he remains unconvinced. However I have found a new product to help lower cholesterol and that it seems will also help the body’s immune system fight viral infections, according to researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

They have shown a direct link between the workings of the immune system and cholesterol levels and as high cholesterol is linked to heart disease, which is the most common cause of death in the UK, this is an important connection. What they have discovered is that when the body succumbs to a viral infection a hormone in the immune system sends signals to blood cells that causes cholesterol levels to be lowered.

Cholesterol produced by our cells is needed for viruses and certain bacteria to grow and so it is logical that limiting our body’s production of cholesterol would therefore curb the opportunity for viruses to thrive. According to Professor Peter Ghazal who led the research: “Drugs currently exist to lower cholesterol levels, and drugs such as antibiotics are used to fight infections by targeting the bug directly. The next step would be to see if such drugs would also work to help bolster our immune systems.”

How to help yourself reduce cholesterol:
The researchers hope to find new ways to manipulate the body’s immune system by targeting cholesterol metabolism. This could involve mimicking immune signals sent to lower the production of cholesterol.

In the meantime, you could do much to help yourself naturally lower your cholesterol levels, and avoid having to take drugs at all for the condition – particularly the use of antibiotic or statin drugs can be avoided by adopting some natural strategies.

High cholesterol levels usually start with the diet so opting for a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fish is an excellent place to start. Add in a daily glass of red wine and a brisk walk and then look at some healthy additions such as reduction in saturated fats by switching to skimmed rather than full fat milk, but please stick with butter but in reduced quantities as margarines are unhealthy for many other reasons.

A new supplement specifically aimed at reducing cholesterol has been tried by one of my ‘guinea pig’ volunteers and seems to have done the trick in bringing down his levels. Works with Water Nutraceuticals has produced help:cholesterol which is a fairly self explanatory name. It contains only natural ingredients including barley beta glucan which has been proven to help reduce LDL cholesterol levels after a minimum period of six weeks.

Clinical research has shown that taking 3 to 8g of barley beta glucan a day, the key ingredient in help: cholesterol, reduces the ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) by an average of 10-14%. These results have been confirmed by the EFSA (European Food Standards Agency) in 2009 after analysis of the clinical research into the cholesterol-lowering benefits of beta glucan.

Beta glucan is the soluble fibre naturally found in the cell wall of cereal grains and the easiest and most effective solution to ensure you get your necessary daily intake of barley beta glucan is to take a supplement such as help:cholesterol twice a day. You mix a sachet with water or juice and the only drawback my tester mentioned is that you have to drink it immediately you have put it in water and stirred vigorously as its textures changes when it hits the liquid. You should find it in health stores and Boots, but in case of difficulty visit the website at

Could Vitamin B replace Cholesterol Drugs?

February 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Health


A recent study found that niacin (vitamin B3), is far more beneficial to heart patients with high cholesterol than the most popular cholesterol drug.  Dr. Anthony DeMaria is a leading cardiologist and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and believes that these new findings will eliminate the need for such drugs.

Anti cholesterol drugs are aimed at reducing the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol”, but niacin is much more effective at boosting the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good cholesterol”.

Niacin significantly reduces plaque build up on arterial walls, improving blood supply to the brain, while cholesterol drugs can slightly increase such arterial plaque build up.  In addition, niacin is considerably cheaper than such drugs and can be bought over the counter.
Studies consistently show that therapeutic doses of niacin alone can raise HDL levels by up to 35 percent and lower LDL levels by 20 percent. When incorporated into a well-balanced diet with regular exercise, the benefits increase even more. Proper diet and exercise will actually cause arterial plaque to dissipate over time, unlike statin drugs which have never been proven to break up arterial plaque.

Niacin is naturally found in dairy products, lean meats, fish and poultry, nuts, eggs, and whole-grain or sprouted breads. Diets rich in plant-based sterols, soluble fibre, and balanced sources of omega-3 and omega-6 oils will also contribute significantly to maintaining proper cholesterol levels and a healthy heart.

Precautions when taking niacin are given for those suffering from diabetes as it can increase blood sugar and anyone with a history of liver or gallbladder disease or peptic ulcers need.  Side effects associated with niacin are usually mild and are redness and flushing of the skin, particularly the face.

Health Bite:
There is another reason why your face may flush, and that is one to seriously pay attention to if you are a regular drinker.  Doctors at the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism report that when drinking results in facial flushing, it’s time to call your doctor to schedule an endoscopic cancer screening.

It could be that you have an inherited deficiency in an enzyme known as ALDH-2 which prompts facial flushing after just a couple of drinks.  This warning sign suggests a much higher risk of oesophageal cancer compared to the general population and as it has a very low survival rate (less than five years) it is worth paying attention.

If you regularly experience flushing after drinking go see your doctor, and monitor your intake because flushing can also occur with the additives in some wines so keep a record of what causes your face to go red so you can eliminate that first.

Why low cholesterol is not always a good thing

I know that in the media there is a lot of emphasis placed on the dangers of high cholesterol, however what many people fail to realise is that cholesterol is essential for your health. It’s present in every single cell in your body where it helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids to help you digest fat.

Cholesterol also helps in the formation of your memories and is vital for neurological function, and now scientists have discovered that there is one specific area where having low levels of one type of cholesterol has been linked to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists studied more than 3,500 civil servants to investigate how levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol were associated with memory. HDL cholesterol can influence the formation of the beta-amyloid “plaques” that are a distinctive feature in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Higher levels of HDL are also believed to protect against damage to blood supply caused by the narrowing of the arteries.

After the five-year study period, the researchers found that people with low levels of HDL were 53% more likely to suffer memory loss than people with the highest levels of HDL. Those with impaired memory are at an increased risk of developing dementia later in life, and that is not the only area where low cholesterol levels can cause you health problems.

The Risks of Low Cholesterol

Other risks related to neurological function are depression, suicidal tendencies and may lead to violent behaviour and aggression. Cholesterol levels that are too low can also increase your risk of cancer and Parkinson’s disease so trying to reduce your cholesterol to unreasonably low levels is doing your long-term health no favours.

Why do cholesterol levels rise?

High cholesterol has become such a hot topic that many people don’t realise that it is not a disease in itself. It is actually a perfectly normal response when something has gone wrong and your body needs to make new, healthy cells. Because cholesterol is produced whenever your cells become damaged, it will show as high cholesterol levels, but if you have a lot of damaged cells, you’re also going to have a lot of cholesterol in your bloodstream. This is a good thing, because it means your cells are being repaired.

Instead of just trying to reduce the high cholesterol, it makes more sense to search for what’s causing the damage in the first place, rather than moving straight on to cholesterol-lowering drugs.

One of the most common causes of high cholesterol is inflammation, and that can be brought on by a number of factors, including:

** Too many processed foods
** Smoking
** Not enough exercise
** Emotional stress

Healthy cholesterol levels are essential to keep your cells functioning at their best, and all of those risk factors above are within your control so that might be the place to start. If stress is the issue, have a look at the website for my book on How To Cope Successfully With Stress at

Cholesterol – Keeping the balance naturally

If you watch television, or read magazines, you cannot miss the constant bombardment on the ‘evils’ of high cholesterol. Certainly, out of control levels of high cholesterol are to be avoided, but so too is low cholesterol. It is not the cholesterol itself that is ‘evil’; we actually require normal levels for the production of the hormones testosterone and oestrogen, and it is found in our cell membranes as part of the structure to keep them waterproof.

Without cholesterol, we could not have a different biochemistry on the inside and the outside of the cell. When cholesterol levels are not adequate, the cell membrane becomes leaky or porous, a situation the body interprets as an emergency, and then releases a flood of corticoid hormones to repair the damage.

Cholesterol is therefore essential as it is the body’s chief repair substance: scar tissue contains high levels of cholesterol, including scar tissue in the arteries. So you can see that so cutting out all cholesterol is actually a bad idea. Studies have shown that there is an increased risk of strokes and a compromised immune system when cholesterol drops too low, but as always the answer lies in balance.

If you do have high cholesterol then it can lead to hardening of the arteries and heart disease, but statin drugs, given for the inhibition of cholesterol, – as I have reported before – have their problems too. They have been associated with side effects such as muscle pain and weakness, memory loss, nerve problems and interference with production of Co-Q10.

Natural Solutions?

So, if you don’t want to take drugs to lower your cholesterol, what can you do? Back to the advertisers, who imply that by switching to their margarine, or yoghurt product, you can lower your levels naturally. Well, that depends on what you mean by ‘naturally’. If you read the labels on those products, they contain many chemical compounds, and the ‘healthy’ yoghurt drinks contain not only sugar but sweeteners as well.

So what else is left? Enter the humble grapefruit, wholly natural and a lot cheaper than buying the aforementioned products.

An international team of researchers from Israel, Singapore and Poland put grapefruit to an extremely rigorous cholesterol test. Researchers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, recruited nearly 60 subjects who had several things in common: they all had undergone recent coronary bypass surgery, had high cholesterol levels, and had used a cholesterol-lowering statin drug with no success. At the outset of the study, none of the subjects had taken any statins for at least 30 days and they were divided into three groups. Over the 30-day study, everyone followed the same low-fat diet, but one group ate one yellow grapefruit a day, while another group ate one red grapefruit daily. They all ate their normal, everyday diet and the third group got no grapefruit at all.

At the end of the study, the two groups who had eaten the daily grapefruit had lower levels of both total cholesterol and LDL – and it was even more marked in the group who ate red grapefruit. Another benefit seemed to be that triglyceride levels also dropped in the red grapefruit group, but not in the other groups. Triglycerides are blood fats that can leave deposits in coronary arteries, and so increase the risk of heart disease.

Now my problem is that my local supermarket has red, yellow and pink grapefruit so I might have to ask them for advice on whether ‘pink’ has a diluted effect from the ‘red’ benefits!

More Good Grapefruit News

Oh, and if you are wanting to lose some weight, there was a study at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego four years ago, in which a group of 100 obese subjects were told to stay on their normal diets, and in addition were given either grapefruit or grapefruit juice to have once a day. On average they lost 3lb, and one person lost 10lbs, as opposed to the non-grapefruit trial group who lost less than a 1lb.

Diabetics may also be interested to learn that the subjects in that same study also showed better management of insulin levels. Those in the two grapefruit groups had lower levels of insulin and glucose than they did at the outset, while levels in the non-grapefruit group were unchanged. The Scripps researchers believe that enzymes in grapefruit help control insulin spikes that occur after a meal, which frees the digestive system to process food more efficiently. This means that less nutrients are stored as fat.


Many foods can interact with the effectiveness or efficiency of drugs, and grapefruit are no exception. Chemicals in grapefruit interfere with the enzymes that break down certain drugs in your digestive system and this can result in excessively high levels of these drugs in your blood, and an increased risk of side effects. The following list is a generic overview of the classes of drugs that may be affected. Bear in mind that it may not be all drugs within a particular group, so consult with your doctor if you are taking any of the following types of medication:

Anti-seizure medication – anti-arrhythmia drugs – antidepressants – erectile dysfunction – Calcium channel blockers -HIV medications – HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors used to treat high cholesterol – Immunosuppressant drugs – Methadone Pain relief – Tranquillisers.