Cholesterol, a yellowish fatty substance, is one of the essential ingredients of the body. Although it is essential to life, it has a bad reputation, being a major villain in heart disease. Every person with high blood cholesterol is regarded as a potential candidate for heart attack or a stroke. Most of the cholesterol found in the body is produced in the liver. However, about twenty to thirty per cent generally comes from the foods we eat.
Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per 100 millimetres of blood. The normal level of cholesterol varies between 150 – 200 mg per 100 ml. In blood, cholesterol occurs in combination with certain lipids (fats), hence, known as lipoproteins. There are two main types of lipoproteins: a low density one (LDL) and a high density one (HDL). The low density lipoprotein is the one which is considered harmful and is associated with cholesterol deposits in blood vessels. The higher the ratio of LDL to the total cholesterol, the greater will be the risk of arterial damage and heart disease.
HDL, on the other hand, plays a salutory role by helping remove cholesterol from circulation and thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
Causes and Symptoms
Hypercholesterolemia or increase in cholesterol is mainly a hereditary disorder. It is also caused by taking rich foods and fried foods; excessive consumption of milk and its products like ghee, butter, and cream; white flour, sugar, cakes, pastries, biscuits, cheese, and ice cream; and non-vegetarian foods like meat, fish, and eggs. Other causes of increase in cholesterol are irregularity in habits, smoking, and drinking alcohol. Stress has also been found to be a major cause of increased level of cholesterol.
Lecithin: Lecithin, also a fatty food substance and the most abundant of the phospholipids, is beneficial in case of increase in cholesterol level. It has the ability to break up cholesterol into small particles which can be easily handled by the system. With sufficient intake of lecithin, cholesterol cannot build up against the walls of the arteries and veins. Lecithin also increases the production of bile acids made from cholesterol, thereby reducing its amount in the blood. Egg yolk, vegetable oils, wholegrain cereals, soyabeans, and unpasturised milk are rich sources of lecithin. The cells of the body are also capable of synthesizing it as needed, if several of the B vitamins are present
Vitamins: Vitamins B6, choline, and inositol are particularly effective in reducing the level of blood cholesterol. Wheat germ, yeast, or vitamin B extracted from bran contain high quantities of these vitamins. Vitamin E also elevates blood lecithin and reduces cholesterol.
The patient should take liberal quantities of vitamin E – rich foods such as sunflower seeds, safflower, soyabean oils, butter, and sprouted seeds and grains.
Sunflower Seeds: Sunflower seeds are valuable in lowering high blood cholesterol. They contain a substantia] quantity of •inoleic acid which is the fat helpful in reducing cholesterol deposits on the walls of arteries. Substituting sunflower seeds for some of toe solid fats like butter and cream will, therefore, lead to great improvement in health.
Coriander Seeds: Regular drinking of a decoction of coriander seeds helps lower blood cholesterol. It is a good diuretic and helps stimulate the kidneys. It is prepared by boiling two tablespoons of dry seeds in a glass of water, and straining the decoction after cooling. This decoction should be taken twice daily.
Ishabgul: The herb ishabgul has been found beneficial in the treatment of high cholesterol level. The oil of the seeds of this plant should be given for lowering blood cholesterol. It contains fifty per cent linoleic acid. This oil is more active than safflower oil, and one teaspoon should be taken twice daily.
Fibre: The amount of fibre in the diet also influences the cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol can be lowered by taking diets rich in fibres. The most significant sources of dietary fibre are unprocessed wheat bran, whole cereals such as wheat, rice, barley, rye; legumes such as potatoes, carrots, beet, and turnips; fruits such as mangoes and guavas; and leafy vegetables such as cabbage, lady’s fingers, lettuce, and celery. Oat bran and corn bran are specially beneficial in lowering LDL cholesterol.
To reduce the risk of heart disease, it is essential to lower the level of LDL and increase the level of HDL. This can be achieved by a change in diet and lifestyle. As a first step, foods rich in cholesterol and saturated fats, which lead to an increase in the LDL level, should be reduced to the minimum. These foods are eggs, organic meats, cheese, butter, bacon, beef, and whole milk. Virtually all foods of animal origin, as well as two vegetable oils, namely, coconut and palm, are high in saturated fats, and these should be replaced by polyunsaturated fats such as com, safflower, soyabean, and sesame oils which tend to lower the level of LDL.
Persons with high blood cholesterol level should drink at least eight to ten glasses of water every day, as copious drinking of water stimulates the excretory activity of the skin and kidneys. This, in turn, facilitates elimination of excessive cholesterol from the system.
Regular physical exercise also plays an important role in lowering LDL cholesterol and in raising the level of protective HDL. It also promotes circulation and helps maintain the blood (low to every part of the body. Jogging or brisk walking, swimming, bicycling, and playing badminton are excellent forms of exercise.