What About “Natural” Remedies?
Several products marketed as dietary supplements claim to help lower blood cholesterol. Some may do just that—but read on before you try them.
There are varying degrees of evidence that three such supplements—guggulipid, niacin, and red yeast rice (sold under the brand name “Cholestin”)—can effectively (and inexpensively) reduce cholesterol levels.
However, if your cholesterol is high, you first need to talk to your doctor, who will consider all of your risk factors for heart disease in arriving at a treatment plan, which may include a prescription drug. Actually, though niacin and Cholestin can be obtained without a prescription, both act as drugs and should not be taken without medical advice and supervision, since dosages must be individually designed.
The dosage for guggulipid is difficult to determine, since there is no guarantee that what you are buying standardized. If you decide to try it, be sure to tell your doctor.
Garlic is also widely advertised as having cholesterol-lowering properties. Here the claims are doubtful. Two recent well-designed studies—one appearing in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the other in the Journal of the American Medical Association—found that garlic had no effect on cholesterol levels. Both studies, which lasted 12 weeks, involved people with elevated cholesterol levels and compared results of garlic against a placebo, or dummy pill.
Interestingly, the studies used two entirely different types of garlic supplement—a garlic oil preparation and a popular garlic powder tablet—yet neither had any cholesterol-lower-
High Cholesterol Prevention
The same measures that help lower high cholesterol levels can also help prevent cholesterol levels from rising in the first place, so follow the recommendations described above. You should also have your blood cholesterol level tested periodically by your doctor.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
If you are over the age of 20, consult your doctor about having your cholesterol levels measured. Children who have a family history of heart disease or of high cholesterol levels should also be tested. You can also call your local hospital, health department, or American Heart Association chapter for advice.
Don’t rely on home cholesterol tests. When your doctor does the test, it should be part of an overall evaluation of your risk of heart disease. Also, home tests cannot measure HDL levels.
What Your Doctor Will Do
Blood will be drawn for the test, and beforehand your doctor should give you instructions that will help to ensure the best possible result. These may include not eating anything for 12 hours before the test (if you are having your LDL and triglyceride levels measured); not exercising before your test (which can cause a temporary rise in cholesterol levels for up to an hour after the activity); and sitting down for at least five minutes before your blood is taken. At least two weeks should have elapsed since any surgery, trauma, illness, or physical strain, since these factors can also affect the test results.
Your doctor may want you to have at least two tests performed, separated by a month or two, since cholesterol levels fluctuate.
Your doctor will discuss the results of your test with you. If your cholesterol is high or your HDL is low, the two of you will discuss measures to take—including the possibility of using cholesterol-lowering drugs—to try and bring your cholesterol levels into a desirable range.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media