Natural Alternatives for Lowering Cholesterol and Triglycerides
Richard Conant, L.Ac., C.N.
Fat and humanity are inseparable. Setting aside the fear and loathing about body fat that pervades our culture, we come to appreciate fat as our friend. More than that, we cannot live without it.
The body contains many different kinds of fats and fat-like molecules. Known collectively as "lipids," these fatty substances include fatty acids, lipoproteins, phospholipids, glycolipids, triglycerides, steroid hormones and the infamous, dreaded cholesterol.
Lipids (fats) are found everywhere in the body, performing a variety of vital functions. The brain is a fat-rich organ. Brain neurons and nerve cells are surrounded by insulation in the form of myelin, made largely out of fat. Cell membranes consist mainly of phospholipids (phosphorus-containing fats) arranged in a sandwich-like double layer embedded with proteins. Sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone are lipids, belonging to the group of complex fatty molecules called "steroids."
The body stores and transports much of its fat supply in the form of triglycerides. A triglyceride contains three fatty acid molecules, which have a chain-like structure, linked to backbone made of glycerol. (There are also mono- and diglycerides, which have one and two fatty acid chains, respectively, attached to glycerol.)
Like many things necessary for life, fat is a two edged sword. Fat insulates us from the cold, cushions and protects our vital organs and serves as a storehouse for energy. Yet, when present in excess to the point of obesity, fat threatens health, happiness, self-esteem, social standing and longevity. Keeping fat in its proper place, not eliminating fat or reducing it drastically, is the goal we should seek.
Lipids in the blood, primarily triglycerides and cholesterol, are essential. Yet they become a health threat when the blood contains too much of them. Blood lipids must be maintained at the proper levels and ratios. How do we keep the blood lipids we need balanced at healthy levels? Diet and exercise are the foundation; these basics must come first. Along with sound dietary and lifestyle practices, a number of natural approaches can be used to effectively maintain blood lipid health. They can also serve as alternatives to cholesterol-lowering drugs. We will now give several of the most effective among these a closer look.
In the early 1990s, U.S. consumers were introduced to an herb used for centuries in the Far East to treat problems involving excess blood lipids. Known in India as "guggul," this herb has proven itself to be one of the most effective natural cholesterol-lowing agents ever discovered. Guggul lowers total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides. At the same time, it raises HDL, the non plaque-forming cholesterol molecule. The changes are substantial; guggul single-handedly normalizes the blood lipid profile, even in people with high initial cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Also called "gum guggul," guggul is a gummy resin tapped from Commiphora mukul, a small shrub-like tree native to India. India’s famed Ayurvedic herbalists have prized guggul, a cousin of myrrh gum, for at least 3,000 years. As far back as 600 B.C., guggul was recommended for rheumatism and poor health caused by overconsumption of fatty foods.
One ancient Sanskrit text describes in detail "coating and obstruction of channels," a condition said to result from disordered fat metabolism due to overeating and a sedentary lifestyle. Intrigued by the striking similarity between "coating and obstruction of channels" and atherosclerosis—the clogging of arteries by fatty plaque deposits—Indian researchers began a<