Too much cholesterol in the body can lead to serious health consequences, most notably an increased risk for heart disease. It’s also important to be aware of the ratio of low density lipoproteins (LDL cholesterol) and high density lipoproteins (HDL cholesterol) since the latter contributes to arterial plaque. While there are medications available that can help maintain healthy cholesterol ratios and reduce total cholesterol, they can also present unwanted side effects, such as liver damage and muscle atrophy. However, there are a variety of cholesterol supplements that can help many people lower their cholesterol without having to resort to statin drugs.
One of the best studied cholesterol supplements is policosanol, a sugarcane derivative. Of particular interest is the component octacosanol, a long-chain fatty alcohol that triggers several biochemical reactions. For one thing, it suppresses peroxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids. This substance also stimulates the release of specialized proteins that facilitate the transport of HDL cholesterol in the bloodstream, carrying LDL cholesterol molecules with it back to the liver. Studies have shown that the effects of policosanol are comparable to traditional lipid-lowering drugs (statins), but without the associated side effects.
Artichoke leaf has been used in herbal medicine as a potential cholesterol supplement since the 1930s. Researchers have found that the presence of cynarin increases bile production from the liver and gallbladder, which promotes increased removal of excess cholesterol from the body. Studies have shown that this activity can result in lowering total serum cholesterol by up to 18 percent and LDL cholesterol levels up to 20 percent.
Green tea has also been extensively studied for various health-giving benefits, including cholesterol-lowering effects. Green tea has been shown to reduce serum LDL levels and lower triglyceride levels, while increasing levels of high-density cholesterol. Like policosanol agents, green tea components also inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
One more cholesterol supplement worth mentioning is red yeast rice. However, even though there is evidence to suggest red yeast rice lowers LDL cholesterol, it may be best avoided. That’s because this material contains a natural form of lovastatin, a prescription cholesterol-lowering drug. Since botanical supplements are still largely unregulated in the U.S., it can be difficult to determine how much of this drug may be in the product.
Keep in mind too that just because many cholesterol supplements are natural, they can still produce side effects or interact with other substances. For instance, green tea may interfere with the intestinal absorption of a number of medications, including adenosine, atropine, and codeine. In addition, since green tea stimulates gastric acid production, it should be avoided if there is a history of peptic ulcers. It should also be noted that, in rare cases, allergic reactions to artichoke leaf extract have been reported. If there is any doubt about possible reactions or interactions, consult with a health care professional before taking any cholesterol supplements.