This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
Optimal cholesterol levels are the #1 topic of conversation when it comes to promoting a healthy heart and circulatory system. But do you want to know a dirty little medical secret? In people without known heart disease, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is not necessarily the most important — or even an especially significant — factor when it comes to supporting heart health.
For one thing, scientific research shows that many other factors are far more important in promoting a healthy heart. They include exercising regularly, maintaining healthy blood pressure levels, optimizing blood sugar levels, eating a healthy diet, stopping smoking, getting proper nutrition, supporting good thyroid function and (in men) optimizing testosterone levels. Lowering cholesterol doesn’t even make the top 10!
Another concern is that levels of cholesterol that are too low may be unhealthy, because cholesterol serves a critical function in the body. Cholesterol is essential for the manufacture of key hormones, such as cortisol, DHEA, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
It’s true that statins — the cholesterol-lowering medications so widely used today — can be critical and life-saving in those who have already had a heart attack or who have angina (chest pain from narrowed arteries). But statins have a minimal impact on those who have never had a heart attack (called primary prevention), only decreasing risk by less than 10%.
To put that statistic in perspective, some studies have shown that eating dark chocolate may be more likely to improve heart health, statistically by 5 times as much, than taking a statin. Another showed that owning a cat may be 3 times more effective. Optimizing thyroid, even when thyroid blood tests are normal, may be 5 times more effective.
If you want to promote healthy cholesterol levels, there are safe, natural ways to do so. Here is the list of ways I developed for one of my most recent books, Real Cause, Real Cure (Rodale, August 2012).
7 Tips for Optimizing Cholesterol Levels
#1: Don’t worry about eggs. Studies show that eating even six eggs every day has no effect on blood cholesterol levels. Yet the myth persists that eggs are bad for your heart. Don’t believe it.
#2: Eat oatmeal for breakfast. An oat-based cereal — whether it’s cooked oatmeal or a dry cereal such as Life, Cheerios or Quaker Oatmeal Squares — is a tasty way to help keep cholesterol within a healthy range.
#3: Men, if testosterone is low or low-normal, consider using bioidentical testosterone. A low testosterone level in men will routinely cause elevated cholesterol levels, as well as elevated blood pressure and blood sugars. In my male patients, I prescribe testosterone if the patient has a total testosterone level that is under 450 nanograms per deciliter. I use a bioidentical testosterone gel, preferably from a compounding pharmacy. This costs a tiny fraction of what the standard testosterone creams cost, and I find them more effective. I aim for a testosterone level of over 700.
#4: If thyroid levels are low (even low-normal), or you have fatigue, weight gain or cold intolerance, consider a trial of prescription natural thyroid hormone. A suboptimal cholesterol level in both men and women is often caused by low thyroid levels. If you want to help move your cholesterol levels to within a healthy range, a trial of thyroid hormone may be worthwhile — even if your lab tests for thyroid levels are normal.
#5: Season with garlic. Eating one to three cloves of garlic a day may be a good way to keep your cholesterol in check. Try crushing a clove into olive oil.
#6: Snack on a handful of “tree nuts” daily. Walnuts can help you maintain good cholesterol levels. So can almonds and macadamia nuts.
#7: To help support good triglyceride levels, take acetyl L-carnitine: 1,000 milligrams daily. This supplement helps burn blood fats. Take it for three months. (Optimal levels of triglycerides are lower than 150 mg/dl.) In addition, take a high quality fish oil/essential fatty acid support and cut back on excess sugar.
Remember, the problem is not so much the high cholesterol, but rather that it is a marker for other problems that can cause heart disease, such as low thyroid, and (in men) low testosterone.