February 1, 2015
By Christine Cheng, R.Ph. and Fred Cheng, R.Ph.
“Exercise, eat well, keep your cholesterol levels down, watch your blood pressure…” it’s likely that many of you have heard one or more of these phrases at a visit to the doctor’s office or even the pharmacy because these are the things that can help you avoid a heart attack or stroke. Sometimes, despite your best efforts at maintaining physician-approved exercise and changing your diet, you still aren’t able to meet the targets for cholesterol and blood pressure set out by your doctor. As pharmacists who specialize in natural health products, we are often asked if there are natural options that can be tried before or at the same time as medications prescribed by the doctor and we’re happy to report there are.
If the main issue is a need to reduce your cholesterol levels, then the first things to try are FIBRE-containing foods and supplements such as HEMP HEARTS and NUTRACLEANSE ™. Fibre helps by binding to and thus reducing the absorption of cholesterol from the gut, resulting in a reduced effect of excess cholesterol intake from the diet. Plant STEROLS also prevent the absorption of cholesterol from the diet. These compounds occur naturally in small amounts in the diet; therapeutic levels have been integrated into grocery products such as margarine and can often be found in combination with other cholesterol-lowering natural products (e.g., CHOLESSTERIN by New Roots Herbal or CHOLESTA-CHECK by Enerex). Sterols found in capsule form work best when taken with a good fat as this helps to disperse the sterols in the gut thus allowing it to better bind to cholesterol.
There are a few natural products that reduce cholesterol levels by inhibiting the synthesis of cholesterol in the body. POLICOSANOL inhibits cholesterol synthesis by the liver and can also decrease platelet aggregation thus functioning as a “blood thinner”. RED YEAST RICE works like prescription “statin” medications by inhibiting an enzyme in the liver that synthesizes cholesterol. Although no longer available as a single entity in high doses, it does play a supportive role in the cholesterol-reducing action of products like Cholessterin and Cholesta-check.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA can be beneficial in promoting healthy blood lipid levels as well as healthy blood pressure. Omega-3’s are especially useful in reducing triglyceride levels and boosting “good” HDL-cholesterol. A good option is Metagenics’ EPA-DHA 720 due to its high omega-3 fatty acid levels and purity. For those who wish to minimize the potential of experiencing a fishy aftertaste or have troubles swallowing large softgels, KRILL OIL (e.g., TOCO-X-KRILL by Biomed) is an option. Patients whose main cholesterol concern is high LDL-cholesterol levels should use omega-3’s with caution as they may boost LDL-cholesterol levels. However, in most cases, the benefits of omega-3’s outweigh the risks.
Other than omega-3 fatty acids, L-ARGININE can be useful for those with high blood pressure as it is converted to nitric oxide which can help blood vessels relax thus resulting in lower blood pressure. There is also some preliminary evidence that MAGNESIUM may be important in regulating blood pressure as its deficiency has been linked to an increased resistance of arteries to blood flow, which can result in higher blood pressure.
Heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular issues cannot be prevented or fixed with a magic bullet. It is important to discuss with your healthcare provider what combination of therapies would work best for your situation. Always keep in mind that because a product is “natural” does not mean that it has no side effects or possible interactions thus speak with a doctor or pharmacist with knowledge and training in integrative therapies to help you make the safest choice. Take care of your heart so that you can love life longer.
(Christine and Fred Cheng are a passionate, charismatic sister-brother pharmacist team at their unique family-owned and operated Pharmasave in Cloverdale, BC. They specialize in natural remedies and compounding for both human and veterinarian use. Everything mentioned in their article is available InStore and OnLine. They would love to hear from you! 604-576-2888; www.cloverdalepharmasave.com. Of course, before you begin any activity program or try any OTC supplementation, check with your physician and pharmacist.)