This past week I had my annual battery of blood tests. My birthday is in December, and so after the holiday festivities are over, usually somewhere within the first two weeks of February, it seems like a great time to reflect on the shape my body is in and think of areas where I can make improvements. This past birthday I passed an imaginary threshold such that I can no longer ignore certain things that are simply inevitable with age. When I was in my early forties, I took a lot more for granted and was concerned less about my health. I figured that as long as I exercised, ate a balanced diet, and minimized my intake of sweets and junk, things would be fine. The weight dropped off and stayed off far more easily, and I didn’t feel so vulnerable to both short term and long term illnesses and of course that “uggh!” word we don’t like to think about, but what all this introspection is about.
Now that fifty isn’t all that far off, I am acutely aware of things that I used to have the luxury of not needing to really concern myself with before. I love my doctor. She is a great combination of education and “country.” Whatever ails me, whether it is migraines, the pinched nerve in my back, asthma, or the natural changes my body is going through thanks to age, she is quick to take out her prescription pad and write a long list of recommendations, none of which include a pill. While many of my friends report being on this or that drug, when I bring those up to my doctor, she just laughs!
When my asthma started getting pretty bad a few years ago, I expected her to give me an inhaler. Instead she said, “ginger tea.” When I complained of increase in migraines, she suggested getting off my butt and away from the computer more often to hike and play with the dogs. She did eventually acquiesce once I reported that one lasted for three days. It was no surprise how thorough she was when explaining what all the tests meant.
We got to cholesterol. She asked me a bit about my family history. Had either of my parents had high cholesterol and if so what did they do to lower their numbers? My doctor knows that I am petrified of cardiovascular disease. Hypertension runs in my family, and it isn’t unusual for high cholesterol and high blood pressure to go hand in hand. I am neurotic about checking my blood pressure. I told her that my mother had had high cholesterol and that I was sure this contributed to her stroke and untimely death at age sixty-one. Her approach was, “Well, I have always eaten this way. I don’t want to stop living.” She did nothing to drop her cholesterol and high blood pressure and smoked as many cigarettes at sixty-one as she did when she was twenty-five.
When my father died of cancer at seventy-nine, his cholesterol was 170. Despite his reckless approach to health, which included a high fat and high sodium diet, lack of concern over his weight, and strict adherence to no exercise under any circumstances, he managed to keep his cholesterol and blood pressure in check. She asked me what I expected the results of the cholesterol test to be. “It’s a crap shoot,” I told her. After all, I could have inherited my mother’s genes or my father’s.
And by and large this is true, however, there are ways to reduce your cholesterol, and stave off cardiovascular problems and live longer and healthier. And so my country doctor gave me an assignment. While I waited for the results, she wanted me to go home and write down all the ways to lower cholesterol, both naturally and Big Pharma’s method. The idea being when I get the results, if my cholesterol was high, I will have already figured out for myself ways to mitigate my risk of heart disease. I know that she will always advocate natural over pills, and so the more I know, the better armed I am.
First Things First: What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is fatty substance (also referred to as a lipid) that is present in our blood stream and is introduced to it two ways: through the normal process of liver production and our diet. Via the foods we eat, cholesterol is absorbed through our intestines and then makes its journey to our blood stream. Lipids are our friends because they store energy; the problem is, as is often the case, if some is good, more is not always better. An excess of cholesterol can lead to blocked arteries, which inhibits blood circulation and puts us at risk for heart attacks.
Understanding the Hieroglyphics
Okay, so your doctor shows you this piece of paper with a bunch of numbers in columns. Lots of symbols like <, >, =, +, – appear next to your numbers and if you don’t have a country doctor who spends considerable time with you to explain these numbers, he or she briefly looks it over as you are sitting there, and with a minute or so to digest the information, rattles off what they mean. Did you get all of that? Or did you mix up the HDL with the fasting glucose? Is your cholesterol okay and you just have to be concerned with diabetes mellitus? Or were they both okay? Why is he writing a prescription before you have even discussed the ramification of these numbers that you aren’t even certain you haven’t mixed up?
Here are some tables that should help you better understand what the numbers mean.
|LDL (a.k.a. Bad) Cholesterol||What the Numbers Mean|
|Less than 100||This is your target|
|100 – 129||Lower is better, but this is still in the healthy range|
|130 – 159||Borderline high|
|160 – 189||High|
|190 and above||Very high|
|HDL (a.k.a. Good) Cholesterol||What the Numbers Mean|
|Lower than 40 in men and lower than 50 in women||Low: this is considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease|
|60 and above||High: In this case, the higher the better, as it works to keep the LDL low.|
|Triglycerides||What the Numbers Mean|
|Less than 150||This is the target range|
|150 – 199||Borderline High|
|200 – 499||High|
|500 or higher||Very high|
|Total Cholesterol (Combining the Numbers)||What This Means to You|
|Less than 200||Desirable|
|200 – 239||Mildly High|
|240 and above||High|
LDL cholesterol builds up along the walls of your arteries and can begin to restrict blood flow. The lower the number; the better. It might seem confusing, but the higher the number the better when it comes to HDL. The higher your HDL, the better chance it has of fighting the LDL. Triglycerides are the build up of fat in your body, and as you can imagine, the lower the number, the better for your health.
Risk Factors for Developing Cholesterol
- High blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension
- Being overweight or obese
- Being a couch potato/not exercising
There is good news about all of these risk factors. Although you can do nothing about inheriting bad cholesterol, you can still lower your cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol because of the other risk factors, you just hit the lottery today, because your chances of lowering it just improved dramatically. You can always alter your diet, lose weight, and exercise more, all of which will not only lower your cholesterol, but your risk of a stroke and diabetes.
How you do this will depend largely on two things: the severity of your cholesterol and whether it is easier for you to pop a pill or do some really hard work to lower it. Although there are exceptions to every rule, by and large preppers are known for not taking the easy way out and instead finding creative ways to do everything. Whether it is finding alternative means to collect water, heat and light your home, or make soap, the prepper lifestyle lends itself well to doing the work necessary to be independent and prepared for anything and everything. That includes lowering your risk of chronic disease due to cholesterol.
Big Pharma’s Method
Most doctors, as we well know, don’t know a whole lot about nutrition. A degree in medicine doesn’t mean they automatically know the best way to keep us healthy. Ignorance aside, most are easily influenced by the kickbacks they get from Big Pharma and the insurance companies for prescribing drugs, which make both of the evil empires rich. Obviously not all prescription drugs are bad. Many have saved lives, but when drugs are prescribed at the exaggerated rate that they are in the United States, it encourages people to simply pop a pill rather than do the tough work to achieve the healthiest results.
For one thing, if your doctor recommends you take a pill, first look at how bad your cholesterol is. Maybe it’s only borderline, and with a few lifestyle changes you can lower it drastically. All you have to lose is a few pound,s and you gain a healthier heart for following an alternative method of lowering your cholesterol. All the doctor has to gain by shoving a pill down your throat is a few extra dollars in his already fat bank account.
Statins are a class of drugs that help to lower cholesterol by inhibiting an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase that makes cholesterol in the liver.
They have been proven to significantly reduce LDL cholesterol and tryglicerides, while increasing amounts of HDL cholesterol.
Although effective, there are some cautions when taking statins. Side effects can include any of the following:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Increased liver enzymes
Because of the serious nature of liver failure, liver enzyme levels need to be checked when taking statins. Rhabdomyolysis is also rare, but can cause severe muscle damage. Certain drugs taken in combination with statins can increase this damage. Another consequence to consider when taking statins is the depletion of coenzyme Q10. A supplement may be necessary.
Possible interactions may occur between statins and certain drugs, foods, or supplements. These include cholestyramine, colestipol, grapefruit, and vitamins A and B3. Statins can be taken a few hours before or after the drugs mentioned. Grapefruit should be entirely avoided because of potentially dangerous interactions between a grapefruit compound and statin drugs. Your doctor should be consulted before taking statins with vitamins.
The potential damage to muscles that can result from taking statin drugs can be increased by certain factors such as age, having a small frame, taking certain medications, having another disease, drinking alcohol, and consuming grapefruit or grapefruit juice.
Bile Acid Sequestrants
Drugs such as Questran, Colestid, and Welchol are called bile acid sequestrants. They act by binding to intestinal bile acids. This results in the liver producing more bile acid from cholesterol and lowers the overall levels of cholesterol in the blood. Bile acid sequestrants lower LDL cholesterol levels and increase the amounts of HDL cholesterol, but have no effect on triglycerides.
These drugs are beneficial, but they can also cause abdominal pain, constipation, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and flatulence. They should not be used by women who are nursing or pregnant. Taking bile acid sequestrants can also cause serious deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B12, D, E, and K, as well as magnesium, calcium, folic acid, iron, carotenoids, and omega-3 fatty acids. Those taking bile acid sequestrants may need supplements to make up for the depletions. They can also cause a decreased effectiveness of drugs like warfarin, digoxin, thyroid hormones, diuretics, and others, requiring a certain timing when taking them with bile acid sequestrants.
Fibric acids, such as Lopid, Tricor, and Atromid-S break down cholesterol and triglycerides and stop their formation. They are especially effective at reducing levels of triglycerides, but also reduce LDL and increase HDL cholesterol levels. Side effects that may occur are abdominal pain with constipation or diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, gallstones, muscle and liver inflammation, vertigo, and rash.
Some fibric acids may cause bleeding when combined with anti-coagulant drugs and should not be taken by those with liver or kidney disease, or in combination with diabetic medications or statins. Those taking fibric acids should avoid alcohol and red yeast rice extract and may need vitamin E and coenzyme Q10 supplements.
Nicotinic acid is also known as niacin and vitamin B3, and as a drug may be called Niaspan, Niacor, or Slo-Niacin. The vitamin reduces LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing amounts of HDL cholesterol. The mechanism of action is not understood, but it may have to do with cholesterol-transporting proteins.
Side effects of taking doses of nicotinic acid include gas, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, and flushed skin with tingling or itching. Rarely, nicotinic acid can raise homocysteine levels in the blood, which is potentially dangerous. Niaspan may also slow the clotting of blood. In very rare cases, niacin may cause liver failure and should not be taken by anyone with liver disease.
Certain interactions may occur between nicotinic acids and other medications. Diabetic drug levels may need to be adjusted, and those on blood pressure medications must take precautions. If taken with statins, niacin could increase the risk of muscle damage. When taking niacin long term, other B vitamins may need to be supplemented.
Selective Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitor
Zetia is a new drug representing a new class in cholesterol-lowering medications. It acts by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines and can be combined with statins. The combination has a significant effect on LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels.
Potential side effects of Zetia include pancreatitis, rash, sinusitis, diarrhea, back and joint pain, or rarely, angioedema. Muscle or liver damage is very rare with Zetia. Although it can be combined with statins, if using bile acid sequestrants, care must be taken. They should be taken a couple of hours apart, as the sequestrants can reduce the activity of Zetia. Taken with cyclosporin, Zetia can cause more severe side effects. There are no known interactions between Zetia and foods or supplements. If taken with a statin, however, statin interactions are a concern.
Better Than Any Prescription: Living Off the Grid
I am not sure about you, but that laundry list alone is enough to make me take pause before picking any of those up at my local pharmacy. When I was working in corporate America, before my husband and I made a conscious choice to leave that chaotic life and buy a farm so we could learn how to live more simply, when my doctor gave me a prescription, I filled it. I believed that he or she knew best. I was naïve enough to believe that behind that prescription was not just years of medical school, but also that he or she considered every possible alternative before deciding that a pill was the best way to treat whatever. I have since become a little wiser and have taken myself off nearly all my prescription medicines. I continually ask myself, what would my grandparents, who were adults during the Great Depression, have done in this or that circumstance? They would have gotten more exercise and eaten a more balanced diet.
The Daily Grind – Off the Grid
One of the biggest lifestyle changes to consider if you have high cholesterol is to incorporate daily exercise into your life. For preppers this is a non-issue. We didn’t choose this lifestyle to sit behind the boob tube all day, while the washing machine and dishwasher are going and the kids are playing with the hand-held version of the latest video games.
Whether you are washing clothes with a washboard and hanging them, building a new coop for your growing flock of chickens, constructing a new corral for a goat, pulling weeds instead of using some chemical to kill them, harvesting, hauling things by hand, or tending to your livestock, it all counts as exercise. Best of all, these and myriad others are all just things that need to get done as part of this lifestyle. These don’t take a lot of thought the way planning an exercise regimen does. So you have one huge advantage over people who still live in the rat race who struggle with figuring out how they will be able to incorporate exercise into their already busy schedules.
If you hunt for your food, apart from the health benefits associated with eating fresh kill that hasn’t made antibiotics and hormones a part of their diet, the act of hunting itself is strenuous. Crawling through small and seemingly impenetrable spaces, hiking up hills, walking for long stretches, crouching for hours, all while lugging knives, your shotgun, ammo, water, maybe a bow and arrow, and everything else that is necessary to successfully bring home a deer, fowl, or whatever you hunted for your family, is a far better workout than any trip to the gym.
Alterations in Your Diet
If you are finding that despite the incorporation of extreme activity into your life that your cholesterol is still high, you may have to make alterations to your diet. Here are some suggestions.
Reduce your intake of saturated fats, which are highest in:
- Dark meat of chicken
Although not as high, cholesterol is also found in cheese, butter and milk. Drinking skim milk will help. I realize I am in dangerous territory talking to farmers! If the idea of drinking skim milk is about as palpable as buying prepackaged food that screams “Fat Free” and proceeds to list a million “ingredients” that are neither food nor are they healthy, you may want to instead try two other things. Switch from vegetable or corn oil to olive oil and save your deep-frying for special occasions. It should go without saying that processed foods are higher in cholesterol and of course sodium, another no-no.
Omega-3s, Veggies, Antioxidants and Whole Grains
Along with minimizing the amount of meat that you eat, increasing your Omega-3 fatty acids is a smart move toward reducing your cholesterol. Found in fish – such as salmon, anchovies, herring and tilapia, as well as chia seeds, nuts, beans and other seeds, Omega-3s have proven time and time again that they reduce not only cholesterol, but also your risk of myriad cancers and type II diabetes.
You can’t eat too many vegetables and fruit, and if cholesterol is an issue for you, this is especially true. Green leafy veggies are always the best, but really anything that grows from the ground, on a vine, or in a tree can be eaten in abundance. Nobody ever overdosed on fruits and vegetables. Some picky eaters, including children, may disagree, but this is true. Apart from all the vitamins and minerals found in fruits and veggies, the fiber present allows food to be digested out more easily and efficiently and the antioxidants work to prevent cholesterol oxidation in your bloodstream.
White bread is just not healthy, although it is certainly more fun and pliable than whole wheat bread. However, after the kiddy excitement wears off of making bread into balls and having a “snow ball fight,” what makes the white bread gooey and sticky and so much fun to play with, is also what makes it high in fat, calories, and cholesterol. If you are buying bread, make sure it says, “100% Whole Wheat,” and if you are making whole grain bread, this is of course best.
Walnuts have been around for thousands of years and yet, like chia seeds, people are rediscovering just how amazing they are. Among the findings discovered in two separate studies involving the use of walnuts on participants with high cholesterol:
- LDL (bad) cholesterol dropped by 10 percent
- Total cholesterol (LDL and HDL combined) dropped more than 7 percent
- Arteries were more flexible; blood circulation increased
The recommendation? By adding just one and a half ounces of walnuts to your diet every day, you can reduce your cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cooking with Garlic
For literally thousands of years people have been cooking with garlic. That included the ancient Chinese and those living along the Mediterranean, and long about the 1500s, those in Europe figured out what these ancient civilizations have always known. Garlic is excellent for the body. The Greeks, Tunisians, and Turks have always and will continue to boast the lowest numbers of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Diabetes Mellitus
We have a different method for proving the safety and efficacy of everything. Although it seems cheaper to just look at the habits of the above-mentioned people to determine why they have the lowest incidences of chronic diseases, while the U.S. has the highest, where there’s money, there’s a clinical study to be conducted. Myriad studies have been conducted that all prove that garlic reduces blood pressure and cholesterol. While your average Greek fisherman may not have been able to articulate why his arteries are so clean, he just knows he is healthy. What some of these studies revealed is that garlic hampers the liver’s ability to produce cholesterol. And here’s something that Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know: Without the known side effects associated with statins, garlic can do this as well or better than popping one of their pills. A side benefit of garlic is that it reduces plaque build up in the arteries around the heart. Although you are free to take a pill, just add garlic to your cooking along with onions. A little olive oil, onions, and garlic on just about everything will make your food sing and lower your cholesterol at the same time.
Red Yeast Rice Extract
Red yeast rice is what happens when rice ferments and red yeast (also known as Monascus purpureus) is allowed to grow. The Chinese and Japanese have used red yeast rice in their cooking for centuries. Along with garlic, it might explain why their cholesterol is so low. Having the same success rate at reducing same HMG-CoA reductase enzyme as statins, the advantage is that red yeast rice does this naturally and without side effects.
Other Things You Can Do to Lower Your Cholesterol
- Add 30 grams of soy a day to your diet
- Stop smoking
- Lose weight and excess body fat
Adding soy can also reduce your risk of cancer. The myriad benefits associated with quitting smoking are literally too numerous to enumerate. The highlights include a reduction of your risk of lung, throat, and tongue cancers as well as a reduction in the risk of stroke and emphysema, and it will make you infinitely more popular with your friends and family. Losing weight and fat will help reduce your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease and make it so much easier to work on your farm.
As it turned out, when I went back to my doctor she said that my cholesterol was fine. Combined my LDL and HDL came to 165. Although it suggests that I take after my father’s side over my mother’s, I bet it doesn’t hurt that I no longer work sixty to seventy hours a week, drive in rush hour traffic, have reduced my stress by at least 80 percent, and live a healthier lifestyle on our farm. If your cholesterol is high, thus putting you at risk for cardiovascular disease, I hope that the options I have laid out will help you manage your diagnosis. Although a pill is easy, remember, we preppers didn’t adopt this lifestyle to take the easy way out. Good luck!
©2012 Off the Grid News