Citrus BergamotCitrus Bergamot is the latest natural supplement for lowering cholesterol levels and can also lower blood sugar as well. This new food supplement has taken the medical world by storm, even being used in place of statin drugs in some cases.

Truth be known, it’s an interesting compound but has many varied effects. It’s ability to block the synthesis of cholesterol means that it could cause problems in some people who’s cholesterol levels are too low to start with.

It is beneficial in other ways though, so it’s definitely something you need to discuss with an integrative cardiologist, if you are attempting to use it as a means of lowering cholesterol levels.

What is Citrus Bergamot?

Citrus Bergamot is a small sized tree that will blossom during winter. In terms of bitterness, it is less bitter than lemon but more than grapefruit. It is used as an ingredient in Earl Grey Tea. The juice of this plant is not consumed, but is used as a treatment for malaria, and the oil is used for aromatherapy.

A fragrant orange sized yellow green citrus fruit that is grown commercially in the Calabria region of Southern Italy. It is grown also in the southern part of France, as well as the south of Turkey.

The essential oil of Bergamot is a dark greenish-brown in color and is extracted in Cote d’Ivorie. It is grown in Antalya Turkey for use in marmalade.

Unlike other citrus fruits, Bergamot has very large amounts of polyphenols. Two of those compounds Melitidin, and Brutieridin, block the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver in much the same way statin drugs do.

It also has a similar effect to grapefruit in that it can affect the way your body metabolizes various pharmaceutical drugs.

How does it work?

Bergemot reduces the amount of triglycerides and cholesterol you would ordinarily absorb through meals. It also reduces the biosynthesis of cholesterol in the body. It also helps glucose get into cells which is beneficial for diabetics.

It blocks the HMG CoA Reductase Enzyme, which is what statin drugs do. It contains substances called polyphenolic flavanoids that suppress cholesterol production in much the same way that statins do, but it works in a different way that does not seem to deplete coenzyme Q10.

There are three main modes of action:

  • Blocks the HMG CoA Reductase Enzyme
  • Works on insulin receptors to improve shuttling of glucose into cells
  • Blocks cholesterol absorption in the intestine similar to plant sterols

What are some of the benefits of Citrus Bergamot?

  • It promotes fat burning and improves blood sugar control. This helps combat obesity and promotes weight loss.
  • It combats arterial stiffness due to it’s effect on sugar metabolism, and the benefits of the flavinoids it contains.
  • Can reduces LDL and triglycerides and increase HDL cholesterol
  • Helps in lowering blood pressure
  • Bergamot shows anti-tumor action and may be effective in combating neuroblastoma and other metastic cancers
  • It demonstrates anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that improve endothelial function

How is Bergamot taken?

When used for it’s cholesterol lowering effect, it would be taken in capsule form at appropriate doses, and this is where things get tricky. The medical profession knows a lot about drugs and the dosages that should be given, but not very much about vitamins, nutraceuticals, and herbs.

Citrus Bergamot capsulesDosage recommendations for this supplement are anecdotal and not the result of carefully controlled trials and years of clinical case studies and experience. Great care should be taken with this supplement, as it does mimic the effects of statin drugs, and thus could have some of the same side effects.

Given this fact, I think it’s wise to seek the advice of a complementary physician, who has knowledge of alternative treatments.

In research conducted at the Scripps Integrated Medicine Conference in San Diego California, in January 2012, they used 1,000 milligrams per day and got an average reduction in total cholesterol levels of 29%, a 36% reduction in LDL, and increase HDL cholesterol by 40%!

Reductions in triglycerides of 30%, and blood glucose of 20% on average were also noted. From this result the researches concluded that Citrus Bergamot extract at a dosage of 1,000 milligrams per day was an effective substitute for statin drugs for lowering LDL cholesterol, and also treating metabolic syndrome.

In Summary:

Citrus Bergamot is an interesting compound with some powerful effects on cholesterol metabolism, blood sugar control, and metabolic syndrome. It has demonstrated anti-tumor effects as well. However due to it’s statin like mode of action, I would very strongly suggest that you use it ONLY under the direction of a doctor who is knowledgeable about alternative medicine.

The doctor can help you determine if it’s right for you, and if so, how to arrive at a safe and effective dosage.

Research references:

Fitoterapia. 2011 Apr;82(3):309-16. doi: 10.1016/j.fitote.2010.10.014. Epub 2010 Nov 4.
Hypolipemic and hypoglycaemic activity of bergamot polyphenols: from animal models to human studies.

Fitoterapia. 2010 Sep;81(6):453-61. doi: 10.1016/j.fitote.2010.01.013. Epub 2010 Jan 20.
Neuropharmacology of the essential oil of bergamot.

Int J Cardiol. 2013 Dec 10;170(2):140-5. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2013.08.125. Epub 2013 Sep 8.
Bergamot polyphenolic fraction enhances rosuvastatin-induced effect on LDL-cholesterol, LOX-1 expression and protein kinase B phosphorylation in patients with hyperlipidemia.

Fitoterapia. 2014 Jun;95:83-92. doi: 10.1016/j.fitote.2014.02.009. Epub 2014 Mar 2.
Effect of Citrus bergamia juice on human neuroblastoma cells in vitro and in metastatic xenograft models.

PLoS One. 2013 Apr 16;8(4):e61484. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061484. Print 2013.
Mechanisms underlying the anti-tumoral effects of Citrus Bergamia juice.

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 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.