Good News, Bad News Cholesterol is a naturally occurring part of every cell structure—and is essential for hormone production and healthy brain and nerve function. Produced in the liver and transported via the bloodstream to where it’s needed in the body, cholesterol needs to latch onto the molecules known as lipoproteins to move around successfully, since blood consists primarily of water.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) are the major movers, but they tend to drop bits of cholesterol along the way. Fortunately, high-density lipoproteins (HDLs), or healthy cholesterol, sweep away these bits of dropped cholesterol and transport unwanted molecules back to the liver, where cholesterol can be broken down and excreted. When the body is in balance, this system protects health.
However, genetic factors and diet can both cause an imbalance. This occurs when there’s too much cholesterol for HDLs to work effectively, in which case LDLs start to form plaque that sticks to artery walls leading to the heart and brain. These thick, hard deposits make the arteries narrow and rigid—a condition known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks the narrowed artery, a heart attack or stroke can occur.
The Next Step?
Since high levels of HDL decrease health risks and high levels of LDL raise the likelihood of heart disease and stroke, we want to increase the first and lower the second. The first step is to eat more LDL-lowering foods such as garlic, almonds, apples, bananas, berries, carrots, cold-water fish like salmon (and omega-rich oils), dried legumes, grapefruit, oats, olive oil, and walnuts. Fiber in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains also helps lower lousy cholesterol. It’s important to reduce dietary cholesterol along with saturated and trans fats, particularly from red meat and other animal fats.
Boost Flavor and Health
Cooking with garlic has famously tasty results. Many scientific investigations conclude that garlic also helps lower blood cholesterol levels—at least modestly. The strongest evidence for this herb’s lipid-lowering potential comes from research at Penn State University and UCLA, which found that supplementing with aged garlic extract (AGE) cuts LDL (lousy) cholesterol levels. The UCLA study also showed that AGE raised HDL (healthy) cholesterol, while lowering homocysteine (an amino acid linked to heart disease), inhibiting harmful plaque formation in the arteries, and stimulating circulation.
Although garlic was effective in lowering cholesterol levels in some studies, others show that garlic alone does not reduce cholesterol. What we know is that garlic together with diet-ary modification may be a useful approach for lowering cholesterol levels.
Large amounts of fresh raw garlic or supplements are not recommended for anyone taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs (especially prior to surgery) or during pregnancy. As with all herbal products, it’s important to discuss supplementation with your healthcare provider.
Research shows that for every 1 percent drop in LDL, the risk for a heart attack decreases by 2 percent. For every 1 percent increase in HDL, heart attack risk drops by 3 to 4 percent. Use these guidelines from the American Heart Association, and work with your healthcare practitioner to get your HDL and LDL levels in the healthy range.
Total Cholesterol Level
Less than 200: Desirable
200-239: Borderline High Risk
240 and above: High Risk
LDL (lousy) Cholesterol Level
Less than 100: Optimal
100 to 129: Near Optimal/Above Optimal
130 to 159: Borderline High
160 to 189: High
190 and above: Very High