Cholesterol is one of the essential components for a healthy life. It is the structural component that is required to make cell membranes, vitamin D, hormones, and substances that help in digestion. This waxy stuff is found in all cells. Trouble starts when the level of cholesterol increases more than the normal range of 200mg/dl. Steady high cholesterol readings spell trouble for the heart when the excess cholesterol gets deposited on the walls of arteries limiting the flow of blood. Over a period of time, it leads a situation medically termed as atherosclerosis, a precursor to heart attack.
Before we delve any further, let us understand cholesterol a bit more. Cholesterol travels through blood attached to a lipoprotein. There are three types of cholesterol in the body – LDL, HDL and VLDL. LDL ( Low Density Lipoproteins) which is at times referred to as the ‘bad’ cholesterol, HDL( High Density Lipoproteins)which is also known as good cholesterol and VLDL( Very Low density Lipoprotein)and contains highest amount of triglycerides. Having a low LDL and high HDL with total cholesterol count below 200mg/dl is healthy. If the levels are beyond 240mg/dl, it is high cholesterol and requires immediate medical attention.
Some of the reasons that lead to high cholesterol are sedentary lifestyle, obesity, diet rich in saturated fats, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and heredity. Animal products contain more saturated fats like butter, cheese, cream, beef, pork, poultry with skin, large fishes from the deep seas with lots of fat.
Vegetable based cooking oils like palm oil, and coconut oil also contain more saturated fats. Saturated fats are often used in fried foods and desserts such as cakes and cookies. Trans fats, part and parcel of packaged foods and fast foods is also a major culprit. With increasing age, both men and women are at higher risk of developing high levels of cholesterol. With women, menopause often triggers it off. Medication taken for blood pressure and sugar may also increase cholesterol levels.
According World Health Organization (WHO), cholesterol is one the main reasons for heart diseases and stroke. Overall, raised cholesterol is estimated to cause 2.6 million deaths (4.5% of total) and 29.7 million disability adjusted life years (DALYS), or 2.0% of total DALYS.
Modern medicine offers medicines for long periods often lifetime to treat cholesterol. Some of these like statin has reported side effects*. These include Muscle strain, liver damage, neurological problems, digestive disorders and few others. The side effects are not reported in all patients.
Alternative medicine streams like Ayurveda have more attractive ways of treatment for high cholesterol. Being a holistic way of medicine, Ayurveda concentrates to treat the whole body of the doshas( vata, pitta or kapha – the three humours of body) that lead to high cholesterol. Each body has a different combination of the doshas. A diet regimen may have to be followed during the treatment.
Ayurveda’s solutions for cholesterol
Ayurveda’s treatises zero in on digestion process for many ailments of the body including cholesterol. Improper digestion arising from internal and external factors can increase the level of LDL and decrease HDL. Improper digestion may be caused by impaired bile juices and digestive enzymes or by toxic chemicals that get into the body through contaminated food or water.
According to Ayurveda, there are 13 different types of agnis( digestive fire) that control digestion. An imbalance in any of them causes a deviation in the amount and quality of lipids and thereby cholesterol.
Therefore, efforts in treatment are directed to keep these ‘agnis’ in fine balance to keep the digestion of food, absorption of the nutrients and excretion of waste in perfect order.
Before the treatment begins in earnest, the body is detoxified. Various methods are followed to detoxify the body. Svedanam or steam bath is one such treatment where medicated herbs are applied on body before the steam bath. Triphala is a popular ayurvedic medicine to be taken internally every night before bed for a week. It cleanses the bowels and prepares the body for further treatment.
The treatment methods use various herbs and medicines. Some of these are commonly used herbs and spices. Holy Basil or Tulsi as it is known in India dissolves the plaque deposits of extra cholesterol in the arteries while Curcumin longa(turmeric ) has been proven to lower LDL levels. In animal studies, an extract of turmeric lowered cholesterol levels and kept LDL “bad” cholesterol from building up in blood vessels.
Herbs like alfalfa form part of medicines to clean up the arteries. Yograj guggulu(Commiphora wightii) maintains healthy metabolism and helps decongest the arteries. It brings down the cholesterol levels considerably. Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna) is another herb that has proven its effect for all heart related ailments. Hridayanrva rasa, Prabhakara vati and mrigamdavasa are some of the common medications for high cholesterol.
But the most important step to be taken for treatment of high cholesterol is the adoption of a strict diet regimen and at least 30 minutes of rigorous exercise. Cut down intake of saturated fats and transfats. A diet with more fibre and water is desirable as it aids better digestion, absorption and excretion. Quit drinking and smoking, if possible. Yoga, if practiced daily helps lower high cholesterol to some extent. Home remedies include:
- Increase intake of garlic and turmeric in food.
- Include sprouts in your diet.
- A diet that includes fresh fish like sardines, salmon, tuna brings down LDL levels.
- Boil 2 table spoon coriander seeds in 500ml of water. Simmer it for a while. Strain it. Drink it after cooling thrice a day.
- Have antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables like carrots, citrus fruits, apples, spinach and broccoli.
- Curry leaves can be used to season your dishes. The high content of anti-oxidants is also responsible for lowering the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL). It decongests the arteries. It is also good for digestion.
- Roast and grind 1 tea spoon watermelon seeds and mix the powder in a glass of water. Drink it once a day.
- paste of dry ginger and honey is a good remedy.
- paste of drumstick leaves can be rolled into a ball and can be had with few drops of honey.
With no side effects, Ayurvedic medicines are gaining more popularity. The ancient science is being rediscovered by millions.