Wendy Hoffman blogs about menopause and women's health—particularly focusing on how diet and nutrition can positively affect a woman's life around the age of menopause.See all posts »
A Kitchen Prescription for Lowering Cholesterol
It is not unusual for women in their forties and fifties to experience rising cholesterol levels. That’s due to the decline in estrogen that, prior to mid-life, kept this soft, waxy substance found within the fats that circulate in the bloodstream in check. If you have too much, it can result in deposits, or plaques, in your heart arteries. That’s why knowing your cholesterol numbers is especially important for women, who stand a one in three chance of developing heart disease.
If your physician has told you that your total cholesterol level is high, there’s a good chance that you’ve walked out of her office with a prescription for a statin drug like Lipitor or Crestor to get it under control. Statins, which are among the 10 most used medications in the world, lower the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, so they are a reasonable option.
But like all medicine, they carry side effects such as constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, gas, heartburn, headache, and muscle pain, and according to James Duke, Ph.D., author of the best-selling The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods, the loss of a very important antioxidant in the heart called coenzyme Q10. Dr. Duke is a botanist and was for many years chief of the Medicinal Plant Resources Laboratory at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
He writes that when it comes to high cholesterol, “I prefer to start with cholesterol-lowering foods; it’s amazing what they can do when it comes to reducing the numbers. And it doesn’t take much of a drop to get a big heart-healthy benefit. Each one percent drop in cholesterol levels may reduce your heart attack risk by two percent.”
Here are five foods that Dr. Duke says can give you a real boost in your fight against unhealthy cholesterol levels:
Almonds - one study found that replacing half of your normal fats with fat from almond oil reduced total cholesterol levels by about 4 percent and LDL levels by about 6 percent in people with normal cholesterol levels.
Barley- A rich source of fiber and beta-glucans, the plant components that also give oatmeal its cholesterol-reducing power. But a cup of barley can offer three times more beta-glucans than a cup of oatmeal.
Beans - Fiber and lecithin (a plant-based fat) together are probably behind beans’ amazing benefits when it comes to blood fats. One study found that just 1 1/2 cups of dried lentils or kidney beans a day could slash cholesterol levels by a whopping 29 percent.
Edamame - One study found that 25 grams of a soy protein like edamame could reduce LDL levels by five percent.
Oatmeal - The protein in oats is a good source of the amino acid L-arginine, which some research has found also helps reduce cholesterol.
Other foods Dr. Duke recommends for reducing cholesterol are: olive oil, avocados, carrots, chocolate, cinnamon, cranberries, orange juice, peanuts, and black or green tea.
If your cholesterol levels are elevated and you haven’t hit the danger zone yet, a diet that includes these and other foods could help reverse this trend. Of course, if your physician has recommended prescription drug therapy, it would be wise to add exercise and cholesterol lowering foods to your regimen -- it could even reduce the amount of time that a statin drug is necessary.