The benefits of policosanol are it’s ability to lower cholesterol naturally.  It is effective in lowering LDL cholesterol and can also help raise HDL cholesterol. Since there are few policosanol side effects, it is considered to be very safe as well as effective.

benefits of policosanolThere is growing interest in this nutraceutical among holistically oriented practitioners and patients because some experts feel it can replace statin drugs which have severe side effects.

What is It and How Does It Work?

Policosanol is one of a number of natural cholesterol lowering supplements. It is extracted from sugar cane. It is made up of octacosanol which is a “long chain fatty alcohol” and several other long chain fatty alcohols. It works by preventing the synthesis of cholesterol, but in a way that is different from statin drugs.

It doesn’t block the HMG-CoA enzyme the way “statin” cholesterol-lowering drugs do, but the precise way that it works is not understood. It does not seem to have the negative effects on energy metabolism that statins do. The standard recommended dosage for policosanol is 5-20 mg/day.

Benefits of Policosanol

The main benefit of this supplement is it’s ability to lower cholesterol naturally. Other benefits are:

  •     Helps prevent the formation of artery lesions
  •     Inhibits the formation of blood clots
  •     Reduces levels of a blood vessel-constricting eicosanoid called Thromboxane
  •     Stops cell overgrowth which can cause narrowing of your arteries
  •     Is effective in lowering LDL cholesterol
  •     Can raise HDL cholesterol
  •     Enhances the effect of exercise
  •     Inhibits the oxidation of LDL cholesterol which decreases inflammation

Effects on Exercise

It has been shown in studies to increase stamina and oxygen uptake during exercise. It is apparently used in muscle tissue as an energy substrate and positively enhances energy production. It’s initially stored in the liver but eventually finds it’s way into muscle tissue, enhancing metabolic activity.

Studies were done in Japan with 10 mg per day , which increased endurance, oxygen uptake and aerobic capacity, as measured on treadmill ECG testing. It also reduced ischemia, improved reflexes, and increased muscle strength.

Additional Benefits of Policosanol

In postmenopausal women and people over 60 who are at increased risk for heart disease, it decreased LDL cholesterol by 25% and lowered total cholesterol by 17%. This was achieved at a dosage of 10 milligrams per day.

At the 20 milligram per day dosage level, it gave people with intermittent claudication (muscle pain, cramps, and fatigue while walking) relief, and allowed them to walk greater distances with less pain. This shows that policosanol has therapeutic value that goes beyond beneficial effects on cholesterol.

Policosanol Side Effects

Along with the benefits of policosanol there are a few side effects that were reported in clinical trials.

The main side effect reported was weight loss, and the other side effect was abdominal pain, however this effect was also reported in the people who were not taking it, so it is not clear that it had anything to do with policosanol being taken.

Policosanol is very safe. Rats given dosages that were 1724 times what a human dose would be, showed no signs of toxicity. There was also no carcinogenic (cancer) activity associated with it. All tolled the side effects of are for all intents and purposes 100% positive, with no proven negative effects at all!

Drug Interactions

Although policosanol is not a drug, people may be concerned about it causing problems for them if they are on medications. However, there is no evidence that it causes any problems when used with drugs that are being taken.

There is evidence that it can enhance the effects of propranol (a blood pressure lowering drug), so caution should be taken with this combination.

There haven’t been any studies done combining it with specific drugs or types of drugs, however there was NO reported adverse effects when using policosanol along with the following:

  • Anti-coagulents (blood thinners)
  • Beta-blockers
  • Calcium antagonists
  • Diuertics
  • Vasodilators
  • Thyroid hormones
  • NSAIDs
  • Antidepressants
  • Digoxin
  • Ulcer drugs
  • Meprobamate
  • Anti-anxiety drugs
  • Neuroleptics

Does Not Inhibit Sexual Function

One of the best things that can be said about policosanol is that it does not inhibit sexual function like statin drugs can, even at high dosages used in animal experiments. Studies with male rats showed that it increased sexual activity, but the mechanism that caused this wasn’t clear. Thus when it’s used in normal amounts there is NO negative effect on a person’s sex life!

Safe, Effective, and Natural

There are many natural alternatives to statin drugs out there for optimizing your cholesterol profile.  Research these carefully and coordinate your efforts with an integrative cardiologist who understands how to use nutritional approaches to promote heart health.

Benefits of policosanol are that it is one of the safest and most effective cholesterol lowering supplements available and it compares very favorably with “statin” drugs while at the same time having none of the side effects or toxicity.

What are normal triglyceride levels and how do they relate to your cholesterol levels? What are the causes of high triglycerides, and how does lowering triglycerides help your cholesterol profile?  These are important questions, and the answers will put you on a path to better cardiovascular health.

What are triglycerides?

Most fats in your body are in the form of triglycerides. They are fat molecules that are created from the fats you eat and also from sugar you eat that is converted to fat and stored in your body. Their levels correspond directly with the risk of heart disease, and thus you can lower your risk by lowering triglycerides.

Although you can have your levels triglyceride levels tested separately, they are typically tested when you get your cholesterol levels profile checked. This is standard when having blood tests done in conjunction with say an annual physical.

What are Considered Normal Levels?

Normal levels of triglycerides are defined as:

Below 150 mg/dl, (Milligrams per Deciliter )

but some experts feel that optimal levels are closer to 50mg/dl, or below, because above 60mg/dl abnormal particles begin to appear in the blood.

This elevates heart disease risk as these particles help form the plaque that narrows arteries and causes heart attacks. Thus normal triglyceride levels are actually closer to the 60mg/dl mark.  The standard of of below 60mg/dl, will lower cholesterol naturally and drastically reduce your risk of heart disease.

Elevated Triglycerides Are Bad

These fatty molecules collect in your organs (and your arteries) and damage them. They have a negative effect on gene expression and promote heart disease. They also increase the tendency of your blood to clot, which increases your risk of strokes. This is even more of a problem in people with diabetes.

Belly fat is mostly made up of triglyceries, and fat in this area of your body is associated with sharply increased risk of heart disease.  Abdominal fat is big risk factor for heart disease, strokes, senile dementia, and other diseases that involve chronic inflammation.

They can also build up in artery walls and are involved in the development of athleroschlerosis. Thuys they are considered one of the primary causes of both elevated cholesterol levels, and the process of plaque development in your arteries.

Causes of High Triglyceries

The typical causes are:

  • Excess sugar  (in the form of starchy carbohydrates, alcohol, candy, pastries, ect.)
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Lack of exercise or physical activity

All of the above issues are related and making inprovements in one area will help with the others as well. For example, exercise will lower blood sugar which in turn will lower triglycerides. Metabolic syndrome is really a collection of symptoms related to obesity.

The remdy for these issues is a healtheir lifestyle which is outlined in the steps below.

Lowering  Triglycerides

Lowering triglycerides is just as important as optimizing cholesterol.  Several strategies are effective for reaching normal triglyceride levels, and they mirror the things you would do for optimizing cholesterol as well.

They are:

Lowering your sugar intake, including processed carbs and alcohol

  • Exercise – 3 times per week for at least 15 minutes per session
  •  Niacin (vitamin B3) at dosages of 250-500 mg with food
  • Fish oil 4000 mg/day of concentrated fish oil
  •  Eat high fiber foods such as oat bran and raw nuts

Fish oil alone can result in a reduction of triglycerides of 50%, and combined with a low sugar diet and regular exercise it is possible to reach normal triglyceride levels naturally, without using any medications.

There is also new evidence that a class of compounds called tocotrienols can help safely lower both low density lipoproteins and triglycerides. Using natural nutritional and lifestyle approaches should always be your goal, because medications carry dangerous and unwanted side effects which can cause serious health problems and even make some conditions worse!

It’s pretty safe to say that achieving normal triglyceride levels is one of THE most powerfully effective strategies for optimizing your cholesterol profile and protecting yourself from cardiovascular disease!

What are optimal cholesterol numbers? Doesn’t this contradict the latest theory that cholesterol does NOT cause heart disease. The truth is that it is a “factor” but not the “cause”!

cholesterol numbersHow do we establish what the optimal levels for LDL and HDL are? These are important questions because the idea that cholesterol specifically causes heart disease is so deeply ingrained in the average person (and most doctors as well).

This is a difficult question to answer definitively because the issue is just so complex. I can tell you what some of the guidelines are, and of course they vary from one source to another. There is a generally accepted “optimal range” for cholesterol numbers.

Here are the guidelines issued by the American Heart Association.

 

Desirable Borderline Risk High Risk
Total Cholesterol 200 or less 200-239 240 and over
HDL 60 or higher 40-59 40 or less (men)
HDL 60 or higher 50-59 50 or less (women)
LDL less than 100 130-159 160-189
Triglycerides less than 150 150-199 200-499

 

 

 

 

 

Keep in mind that these guidelines somewhat reflect the influence of the drug industry and their attempts to increase their market for cholesterol lowering drugs called “statins.”

The recommended cholesterol numbers keep being adjusted downward, in my opinion in order to get doctors to prescribe more statin drugs which of course boots revenues of the drug industry.

In addition, there are other tests which are called “inflammatory markers,” that have a direct bearing on your risk for developing heart disease, and these tests should also be used to more accurately determine what your overall risk of cardiovascular disease is.

Once you know your level of risk based on the latest tests and analysis of particle types, then you can target your lifestyle strategies (exercise, diet, and stress reduction) to protect your heart health. This should always be the end point of ANY testing…a program to address whatever risks the tests have identified.

What really DOES Causes Heart Disease?

Here’s a simplified explanation. Heart disease is caused by inflammation. That is what actually damages the lining of your arteries. As Dr. Stephen Sinatra likes to say “Cholesterol is found at the scene of the crime, but it’s not the perpetrator!”

When arteries are damaged, your body uses LDL to try and repair the damage, kind of like patching holes in a wall. Obviously the LDL did not cause the damage, but gets attached to the artery walls and accumulates eventually clogging the artery. This is called an “occlusion.”

When the LDL particles that stick to your arteries become oxidized and thus inflammatory, the process of arteriosclerosis begins. This is where the small highly inflammatory LDL particles called HP(a) come in.

So again, the cholesterol did not initiate the process of heart disease, but it IS an important factor in the progression of heart disease. With that out of the way, lets move on…

Focus on Particle Size and Type, Not Just Cholesterol Numbers

The real focus should be on the type and particle size NOT just the levels. According to Dr. Stephen Sinatra, an integrative cardiologist who is board certified by the American College of Cardiology, if your LDL particles are large and fluffy then you really don’t need to worry so much about your LDL levels.

However if the LDL’s are small dense highly inflammatory particles, then your risk is greatly elevated. There is a test that measures for these small inflammatory particles (HP(a)), called the Lipoprotein Particle Profile (LPP) test.

The LPP test measures the level of HP(a) which is a small dense LDL particle which is very toxic and inflammatory to the blood, potentially causing your blood to become “hyper-coagulated” which is another word for sticky and more likely to clot.

The takeaway message is that if you have this dangerous inflammatory LDL particle, then obviously the higher your total cholesterol numbers, the more of this dangerous particle you have, and the greater your risk. Simply stated, high levels matter when you have dangerous LDL particles in your blood.

So in closing, optimal cholesterol numbers are totally dependent on particle size and type. If your cholesterol particles are the small dense inflammatory type, then you need to make a greater effort to lower your levels.

If your LDL type is large and non-inflammatory, then your total levels are not something to be overly concerned about. You should take the time to consult with an integrative cardiologist to determine how best to manage your heart health.

The VAP cholesterol test is the very latest diagnostic test to determine your risk of heart disease. Standard cholesterol level tests identify only 40% of those at risk for heart disease. In fact, half of all heart attacks are suffered by people with normal levels!

VAP cholesterol testProblems With Traditional Tests

One of the shortcomings of standard tests was that they didn’t measure or identify lipoprotein particles associated with increased inflammation.

Medical science has really caught on to the fact that it’s really the damage that inflammation does to your arteries that causes heart disease.

The old standard for testing was to measure LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol and to use the ratio between LDL and HDL to determine a person’s risk of heart disease. This was fairly accurate for it’s time, but it has been superseded by a new standard for determining your risk.

The old testing protocol produced four measurements:

  • Total cholesterol
  • Triglycerides
  • LDL – Low-density lipoprotein
  • HDL – High-density lipoprotein

Although these four elements do have some value in determining your risk of heart attack, they lack the accuracy of newer test methods in determining risk.

Enter the VAP Cholesterol Test

Medical science has recently developed a newer and more accurate test for heart disease risk called VAP  for (Vertical Auto Profile). This test benefits you in two ways.

  • It is THE most accurate indicator of your risk of heart attack
  • It helps identify various risk factors that you can control to prevent a heart attack

VAP cholesterol test can pinpoint your risk, taking much of the guesswork out of this medical diagnosis. This is very helpful for people who have test results that show normal levels, but who’s true heart attack risk can now be successfully identified.

Not all doctors provide the VAP cholesterol test, but it’s use is increasing as more and more doctors realize their standard testing fails to identify everyone that is at risk.

The VAP test is done the same way as other tests where a nurse or lab technician draws your blood and then sends it to a laboratory which then runs the test and returns the test results to your doctor.

How Does The Test Work?

The test identifies the following:

  • Identifies small dense LDL particles that cause arterial plaque
  • HDL2 and HDL3
  • IDL – Intermediate-density lipoprotein
  • Lipoprotein A
  • (VLDL1, VLDL2, VLDL3) Very low density lipoproteins

These small sub-fractions of cholesterol pose the greatest danger to you. The VAP cholesterol test will identify these particles, their density, and distribution. This information helps your doctor create a customized approach to reducing your risk of a heart attack and strokes.

Standard test results are still valuable as a screening method for heart disease. It is an inexpensive way of determining if you are at increased risk. The addition of the VAP test further clarifies your degree of risk and allows you to make needed lifestyle changes to head off a possible heart attack.

The key is to identify risks early while there is still time to reverse them with diet and exercise rather than drugs such as statins which have toxic side effects. The test really represents an advance in thinking that more accurately gauges how these individual lipoprotein particles affect your overall risk for heart disease.

The VAP cholesterol test will soon become the standard for determining your heart attack risk. This will go a long way toward making heart attacks increasingly rare and survivable! Ask YOUR doctor about the VAP test, and start reducing your risk now!

What is Cholesterol

What is cholesterol? Among other things it is a very much misunderstood substance that people have been unnecessarily frightened of. They have been told repeatedly by “experts and authorities” that it’s a dangerous substance, that must be lowered in your body before it kills you!

what is cholesterolIn this information website, we will try and demystify this perfectly natural substance and disprove once and for all that it causes heart disease! We will also provide good solid information and easy to implement strategies that will help you prevent heart disease instead of just “lowering cholesterol.”

Let’s start with a discussion of  what is cholesterol…

Cholesterol is a fat (also called a lipid) that is made in the liver. It’s part of a class of compounds called steroids which are made in the bodies of all animals. This substance is vital to your body, is transported through the blood, and is contained in the external layers of all cells.

The origin of the word cholesterol originally comes from the word chole which means bile in Greek. The other part of the word derives from the Greek word stereos meaning stiff or solid. This waxy fatty substance is necessary for your cells to maintain their structural integrity.

This is why it is absolutely vital for life, and in fact your body actually manufactures this substance for use in all of your cells. Statin drugs interfere with the production of cholesterol which is why they cause so many side effects.

What is cholesterol used for?

There are many functions for this amazing substance:

  • It is used in creating the myelin that coats and protects your nerves somewhat like the insulation on a wire.
  • It is used for synthesizing bile acids which your body needs for digestion.
  • Your body uses it to make sex hormones (androgens and estrogens) and also in the synthesis of the adrenal hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone.
  • It’s used in to metabolize vitamins A, D, E, and K (the fat soluble vitamins)
  • It is used in the reactions that synthesize vitamin D from sunlight.
  • It’s essential for maintaining the outer structural layer of your cells and also for keeping the cell membranes permeable so that certain molecules can pass through the membrane and enter the cell.

In order to travel through your bloodstream, it needs to have a protein coating and thus becomes something called a “lipoprotein.” They are called lipoprotiens because they contain both protein and fat.

The four main types of these lipoproteins are:

  1. LDL or low density lipoproteins often called bad and are associated with an increased risk of heart disease when they are high
  2. Chylomicrons (triglycerides) consisting of approximately 90%  fat
  3. HDL or high density lipoproteins (often referred to as the “good cholesterol”) HDL is thought to “protect” the arteries from damage by carrying away LDL particles so they can’t build up on your artery walls.
  4. VLDL or very low-density lipoproteins (often referred to as a very bad form of lipoproteins) These particles are considered to have the highest risk of contributing to heart disease because they are small dense highly inflammatory particles that can damage artery walls.

The role of triglycerides…

Triglycerides are fat molecules that come from the fat in the foods we eat, or can be synthesized from carbohydrates that are not burned for energy. These triglycerides are stored in your body and released to be burned for energy when your body does not get enough food to meet it’s energy needs. The truth is that it is triglycerides that really increase the risk of heart disease!
Hypertriglyceridemia is a term used to refer to high levels of triglyceries in the blood and researchers now know that this is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. High glycemic carbohydrates can raise levels of triglycerides and greatly increase risk of heart disease.

While this area is still somewhat controversial, it’s clear that triglycerides have a major role in heart disease and they are increased by sugar consumption. It makes sense for this reason to keep your intake of sugar and high glycemic carbohydrates low to avoid setting yourself up for cardiovascular disease.

A Complex Question…

Doctors have been taught to calculate your risk of heart disease using ratios of these lipoprotein particles. They have also been given guidelines for what the “safe” and “dangerous” levels are.  Now these guidelines have been called into question, as new information has changed what the medical community “thought” they knew!

Even though the question of  what is cholesterol is a complex one, you will see that terms like good  and bad cholesterol are misleading and inaccurate. All of these forms of this vital substance have their necessary roles. Instead we should be looking at the effects of chronic inflammation and how we can neutralize it, because it is really inflammation that causes heart disease!

References:

Curr Cardiol Rep. 2011 Dec;13(6):544-52. doi: 10.1007/s11886-011-0220-3.
The role of triglycerides in atherosclerosis. Talayero BG, Sacks FM.
Source: Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA. btalayer@hsph.harvard.edu

Eggs and Cholesterol – A Pervasive Nutritional Myth!

Many people have heard dire warnings about eggs and cholesterol, but is there any truth to this widely held belief at all? The answer is NO! Eggs have not been shown to significantly raise LDL (low density lipoproteins) levels when eaten in moderation. In fact eggs are actually be considered beneficial  when cooked and eaten properly and in moderate amounts.

eggs and cholesterol

Please note that the term LDL refers to the form considered by cardiologists to be “bad,”  however we will show in other posts that the idea of good and bad cholesterol is a misapplication of the science!.

Lipoproteins are another term for cholesterol. Thus HDL cholesterol is high density lipoproteins, and LDL is used  to refer to “low density lipoprotein.” The type that is believed by scientists to actually cause problems is called vldl cholesterol, (very low density lipoproteins). However even in this case the truth is more complicated than this and we will explain this as we go along.

The Facts about Eggs…

The fact is that egg yolks also contain lecithin which is a phosopholipid compound that actually lowers the amount your body absorbs. Thus the cholesterol in an egg does not have the same effect in your body, that it does when it comes from other sources.

Eggs contain about 185 milligrams of cholesterol (for a large egg), but they are also high in vitamin-d, choline (a b-vitamin) and lecithin. Interestingly, the saturated fat content in eggs is low. Research studies have shown that foods that you eat, does not have necessarily cause high cholesterol levels in your body, and in some cases may actually lower it!

It appears that the eggs and cholesterol myth began when the concern over lipoprotein levels being a factor in heart disease emerged. Researchers jumped to conclusions and people were warned that eggs greatly increased the risk of heart disease, based on this assumption, (based on poorly done research).

Eggs are Essential Sources of Choline

One negative result of this eggs and cholesterol hysteria was that people stopped eating eggs, or at least significantly cut down on egg consumption. The b-vitamin choline is essential to good health, especially of the brain.

The most abundant source of this vitamin in most people’s diets came from eggs. As a result the population as a whole became deficient in choline, leading to other serious health problems like Alzheimer’s Disease, and even increased rates of heart disease!

Choline is vital to the healthy function of the brain and nervous system, which in turn has a huge impact on heart health. Thus by limiting egg consumption and producing deficiency of choline in the diet, people were actually making the situation with regard to heart disease even worse!

What The Research Says…

Some people who have a genetic tendency toward higher levels called (familial hypercholesterolemia) may be affected by the amount they consume in their foods, but the mechanism is not totally clear. In fact the famous Framingham Study of heart disease shows that people with the highest hdl cholesterol levels actually lived the longest!

Recent research conducted on eggs and cholesterol at the University of Surrey by Dr. Bruce Griffin found that two eggs per day consumed by healthy people for a 12 week period actually lowered their LDL levels on average! It was concluded that eggs will not significantly raise cholesterol numbers in a healthy person. In this instance eggs actually lowered their levels!

In face the research subjects in the experimental group actually lost weight as well. This may seem surprising, but in light of the fact that egg yolks contains beneficial vitamins and high quality protein, it supplies your body with vital nutrients, without which you can’t achieve optimal health.

Recent research has also suggested that eggs may act in a way to reduce high blood pressure and that they contain antioxidants that help prevent heart disease. While this evidence is not yet conclusive, it suggests that eggs, far from being dangerous to our health are actually beneficial in preventing both cancer and heart disease!

Nutritional myths about eggs and cholesterol still persist in medicine and are accepted by the public at large, but gradually the word is getting out that eggs are not a bad food at all, in fact you need the beneficial nutrients in eggs for good health, including heart health!

References:

Chamila Nimalaratne, Daise Lopes-Lutz, Andreas Schieber, Jianping Wu. Free aromatic amino acids in egg yolk show antioxidant properties. Food Chemistry, 2011; 129 (1): 155 DOI:
Majumder et al. Angiotensin I Converting Enzyme Inhibitory Peptides from Simulated in Vitro Gastrointestinal Digestion of Cooked Eggs. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2009; 57 (2): 471 DOI: