Last week, I got a call from the doctor's office telling me that I have high cholesterol. It was a real shock. I knew that my total cholesterol was up last time I had a blood test, but the doctor said that my HDL ("good" cholesterol) was high, so the balance between the two numbers was good. This time, my HDL was 76, but my total was 250-something (I don't have the paperwork with me right now). You'd think this would have shown up before I started to pay attention to my diet and exercise, and I feel a bit betrayed by my body that it's showing up now. But, then, my body's been a Benedict Arnold before. I should expect its little tricks.
When I get news like this, I feel the need to gather information. What can I do to help lower my cholesterol? Some things, we all know, but I'm going to summarize what I find here. And since I'm such a good little librarian, I'll put links and citations at the end of this blog so you can find the resources yourself.
Eat foods high in soluble fiber: Oatmeal is the one that comes to mind first. Yep, no surprise, if you've paid any attention to health news in the last decade. I don't know if there's some Oatmeal Marketing Association that put this news out, or what. But other foods high in soluble fiber include: kidney beans, apples, pears, psyllium, barley, okra, eggplant, and prunes.
Nuts: Walnuts are the top dog, here, but I have a weird (allergic?) reaction to them. So a handful of almonds, pine nuts, pecans, peanuts, or pistachios might be in order.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: I thought these just raised your good cholesterol, but evidently they actually lower your numbers. Salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, ground flaxseed, canola oil.
Olive oil: Lowers LDL, but leaves HDL intact.
Soy protein foods: This one's controversial, evidently, because early studies showed it does make a difference, but later ones showed no significant difference. Soy protein is found in tofu, soy nuts, soymilk, soy burgers, edamame, and miso.
Foods fortified with plant sterols and stanols: I have wondered about those little yogurt shots and I bought some this week. I'd rather get benefits from whole foods, not a supplement like this, but I thought that a little extra dairy a day would also be good for my calcium levels.
Diet with less than 10% saturated fats: I think I'm there, but I'm going to cut back further on my lowfat cheeses, which I think is about the only place I get sat fat on a regular basis.
Regular exercise: Doing that!
Red Yeast Rice: This supplement was examined in quite a few studies and it seems to lower cholesterol. However, as with all supplements, the efficacy depends on the exact composition of the individual supplement, and it can vary widely.
Anderson JW, Johnstone BM, Cook-Newell ME. (1999) Meta-analysis of the effects of soy protein intake on serum lipids. N Engl J Med 1995;333:276-282.
Becker, D.J., et al. (2009) Red yeast rice for dyslipidemia in statin-intolerant patients: a randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine 150(12): 885-6.
Clifton, P., et al. (2009) Dietary intervention to lower serum cholesterol. Australian Family Physician, 38(6): 424-9.
Doheny, K. (2008) U.S. News & World Report Online. Soy protein doesn't lower cholesterol. health.usnews.com
Heber, D., et al. (1999) Cholesterol-lowering effects of a proprietary Chinese red-yeast-rice dietary supplement. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 70(1): 231-6.
Heber, D., et al. (2001) An analysis of nine proprietary Chinese red yeast rice dietary supplements: implications of variability in chemical profile and contents. 7(2): 133-139.
Mayo Clinic. Cholesterol: The top 5 foods to lower your numbers. www.mayoclinic.co