artichoke-leaf-extract

Artichoke leaf extract capsules

Did you know that better heart health and lower cardiovascular risk can be had with two natural products that you can buy right over the counter? Well it’s true! Artichoke extract and pantethine are what we are talking about, and it can help you cut your risk of heart disease without dangerous side effects.

Interested? Well then read on…

Millions of people use the popular statin drugs to lower cholesterol but heart disease still continues to be the number one killer of Americans. Statins lower LDL cholesterol and inflammation while raising hdl but they have serious side effects that can dramatically lower the quality of life and put you at risk for serious health complications. One area where statins fall short is raising HDL levels. They don’t elevate HDL enough to significantly improve your HDL LDL ratio.

Statins can also raise your risk for rhabdomyolysis: (muscle breakdown), kidney damage, and even diabetes. This is due to it’s interference in the biochemical pathways which bio-synthesize both cholesterol and coenzyme Q10, which your body needs to help create energy from the foods you eat in order to power the cells of the heart.

Thus statins not only commonly cause muscle pain and weakness, but can also ironically increase the risk for cardiomyopathy which is muscle damage to the heart!

While there are certain people for whom the risk of statins is justified by their effectiveness, the vast majority of people would likely be better off with natural alternatives, and there are two good ones we have access to, pantethine and artichoke extract. These two supplements or “nutraceuticals” as they are sometimes called, can lower LDL AND raise HDL safely and naturally without the risks of serious side effects.

Enter Artichoke Extract…

An extract from artichoke leaves can raise your levels of HDL, while pantethine which is an analog of vitamin b-5 can lower LDL without causing deficiency of coenzyme q10 (as statins do). The use of these two compounds together has been shown to reduce by up to 11% the risk of heart disease. Pretty powerful stuff for two natural substances!

Artichokes which are actually considered to be in the “thistle’ family contain powerful substances called flavonoids that can lower LDL levels and increase HDL. The flavonoids act as antioxidants, preventing the oxidation of LDL particles in your arteries. In addition artichoke extract can increase your levels of bile acids, which help remove cholesterol from the body.

The clinical results with artichoke extract were based upon an intake of 1,800 mg/day of dry artichoke leaf extract for 6 weeks. This resulted in an 18.5% reduction in total cholesterol, with an improvement in the HDL/LDL ratio. It was also shown to cause an average of over 36% increase in endothelial function (the layer of cells that line the arteries) which also helps to prevent heart disease.

Next Up – Pantethine…

Pantethine lowers LDL levels without reducing coenzyme q10. It does this by inceasing the breakdown rate of serum cholesterol and reducing the rate of cholesterol synthesis. Pantethineis an energy molecule that helps increase fat burning in the body.

It also improves the ratio of HDL to total cholesterol which has a protective effect on your artery walls, reducing plaque formation and lesions in the aorta and coronary arteries.

A four month study was undertaken where the dosage of pantethine was 600mg/day for the first eight weeks and then a higher dose of 900 mg/day for the second eight weeks. This resulted in a modest decrease of LDL with a slight increase in coenzyme q10, unlike statin drugs.

When you consider that every reduction of 1% in LDL levels equals a 1% reduction in heart disease risk, pantethine significantly reduces the risk of heart attack by 11%. This is a very significant result and more reason to include pantethine in your supplement regimen.

In Summary…

All of us are at risk for heart disease as we age, and the primary issue in that risk is elevations in inflammatory LDL particles and low HDL levels. Many of the
patients put on statin drugs stop taking them because of the severity of the side effects, leaving them vulnerable to risk of heart disease once more. However the
combination of pantethine and artichoke extract can help lower LDL and raise protective HDL without the side effects that characterize statin use.

People who are at low risk may be able to achieve effective protection just by using these natural compounds rather than statins drugs. For people who have
extremely high LDL and/or very low HDL, a combination of low dose statins AND natural compounds like pantethine and artichoke extract may be the ideal
combination to avoid side effects AND effectively decrease the risk of heart disease.

As always, any therapy whether drug based OR natural that is intended to protect against heart disease should be managed by your doctor, possibly with the help of
a nutritionist or other wellness professional who is well versed in natural healing therapies, nutrients, and nutraceuticals.

Medical References:

Atherosclerosis. 1984 Jan;50(1):73-83.
Controlled evaluation of pantethine, a natural hypolipidemic compound, in patients with different forms of hyperlipoproteinemia.
Gaddi A, Descovich GC, Noseda G, Fragiacomo C, Colombo L, Craveri A, Montanari G, Sirtori CR.

Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2015 Aug 27. [Epub ahead of print]
Pharmacological Studies of Artichoke Leaf Extract and Their Health Benefits.
Salem MB1, Affes H, Ksouda K, Dhouibi R, Sahnoun Z, Hammami S, Zeghal KM.
Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2013 Feb;64(1):7-15. doi: 10.3109/09637486.2012.700920. Epub 2012 Jun 29.
Beneficial effects of artichoke leaf extract supplementation on increasing HDL-cholesterol in subjects with primary mild hypercholesterolaemia: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.
Rondanelli M1, Giacosa A, Opizzi A, Faliva MA, Sala P, Perna S, Riva A, Morazzoni P, Bombardelli E.

pantethine-capsulesGood cholesterol levels can be achieved easily and naturally using pantethine, which is what I call a heart healthy nutritional supplement.

It is a derivative of vitamin b5 and it’s made up of two molecules of pantothenic acid linked together by what’s called a cysteamine bridge.

It is an intermediate step in the synthesis of  Coenzyme A, which in turn is involved in various enzymatic reactions including the production and oxidation of fatty acids.

pantethine molecule

Pantethine is what’s called the “active” (more biologically available) form of the vitamin b5, but unlike the more well known form calcium pantothenate, it is less stable and will degrade if not refrigerated.

The theory is that since it’s closer biochemically to coenzyme A, it is more beneficial than pantothenic acid. It’s involved in the activation of coenzyme A and helps transport fatty acids across the cell membrane into the mitochondria to be used to make ATP, (a key component in health).

However as you will see it’s benefits go far beyond improving your cholesterol hdl ratio!

How does it work and what does it do?

Biochemistry details aside, the bottom line for the average person is “what does it do?” Dr. Stephen Sinatra has stated that in every type of heart disease, what we find is an energy starved heart! The role of pantethine in cellular energy production is a big part of it’s beneficial effect on heart health.

The heart is a very energy intense organ, and the ability for the cells of the heart to produce  energy in the form of ATP affects every aspect of your heart function, from contraction to the electrical signaling that keeps your heart beating strongly and evenly.

Pantethine is right in the middle of all of this because it is a key player in the production of ATP in the mitochondria of your cells. In plain English, it boosts energy not only to your heart, but all the organs and systems of your body!

It  has been shown (in animal experiments) to lower LDL cholesterol and raise hdl cholesterol, improving the cholesterol hdl ratio, as well as decreasing triglycerides. The ability of pantethine to promote good cholesterol levels is highly beneficial to heart health.

In addition is increases levels of apolipoprotein A1, which is the component of HDL responsible for transporting cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver. Pantethine also functions as an anti stress nutrient, due to the fact that it supports the health of your adrenal glands and protects the health of your hormonal system particularly when you are under stress.

Pantethione also protects your brain in several ways. It promotes the synthesis of Coenzyme A (CoA) which in turn is used in the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is critical for healthy brain function, and a lack of this neurotransmitter can lead to Alzheimer’s Disease.

It’s positive effect on the synthesis of CoA improves the efficiency of your heart and in turn improves blood flow to the brain. Pantethine has also been shown to be beneficial for the immune system, detoxification, arthritis, and wound healing. It is used also to treat acne, and also for gout and CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome).

So the evidence is that pantethine…

  • Improves hdl cholesterol levels
  • Improves ldl cholesterol level
  • Protects the brain by boosting acetylcholine
  • Improves heart function and blood flow
  • Can be used to treat acne
  • Is helpful in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Improves detoxification
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Combats arthritis
  • Can be used to treat gout

How is it taken (form and dosage)

Pantethine as a nutritional supplement is taken orally in capsule form. Clinical research protocols have used as little as 300mg per day with statistically significant result. Levels of 600mg to 900mg have been used in research and yielded very significant reductions in LDL levels for subjects with elevated cholesterol levels. In general though there is little information to use as a guide for precise dosage levels.

Remember that where dosages are concerned, more is not necessarily better. The best course of action would be to use this supplement under the guidance of a complementary physician who can do follow up blood work and determine the correct dosage based on that.

This supplement should work at a relatively low dose, even as low as 5mg to 50mg per day. Start with the lowest dosage and work upwards until you find what works for you.

There are home cholesterol tests that you could use to establish a baseline reference and follow up test would tell you if the pantethine was having an effect. You would have to be careful to account for all the variables in your diet and activity level, and even at that it would not be a “scientifically accurate” result, but enough for you to determine whether pantethine was actually promoting good cholesterol levels.

Side effects

Large amounts of this supplement could potentially block absorption of other b vitamins. It could also cause fatigue, numbness in your hands and feet, or headaches. It’s effect on peristalsis could cause more frequent bowel movements or diarrhea.

The toxicity of this supplement is extremely low, and it has been termed “well tolerated” which is medical jargon for having few side effects. It is not likely that toxicity would be a problem at the dosages that would have benefit.

Brands to look for

Brands I like are:  Jarrow Formulas, Life Extension, and Pure Encapsulations. You really can’t go wrong with these companies when it comes to the quality of the supplements they sell. To be sure there are other good brands, but these are the ones I know of to be top notch.

To Sum Up

This is a supplement that can be helpful in many conditions due to it’s vital role in cellular energy production. Think of it less as something “medicinal” and more as a substance your body needs to create energy that powers all of your biochemical reactions.

Pantethine can be a powerful addition to your nutritional arsenal when it comes to promoting good cholesterol levels, combating heart disease and protecting your brain function. This article should be a starting point for your investigation and use of this fascinating supplement!

niacin taken to lower cholesterolNiacin for cholesterol has for years been the choice of natural supplements that lower cholesterol.  Niacin (vitamin b-3) can improve cholesterol profiles when used in high doses such as 1,000 to 3,000 milligrams per day.

The use of niacin to lower cholesterol has a lot of sound scientific research behind it. It is considered to be the most effective way to lower cholesterol naturally that is currently available.

This is far above the MRD (minimum daily requirement for vitamin b-3, so when it’s being used to lower cholesterol levels, we call that a “therapeutic dose.” These dosages will cause a reaction call a “niacin flush,” which if you are not used to it may be a little disturbing.

This flushing can be controlled by gradual increases in the dosage so that the body has time to adjust and does not react as strongly.

When using niacin for cholesterol, your skin will turn red and you will feel itchy. This is due to what’s called vasodilation. Niacin (also referred to as nicotinic acid) will lower cholesterol levels, reduce triglycerides, and improve the cholesterol hdl ratio, by boosting hdl levels.

Recent studies have shown that a lower dose (1.5 grams/day) of niacin is effective in lowering ldl levels and also boosting hdl levels. This dosage is better tolerated by the majority of people and is thought to be relatively safe for the liver.

Non-flush – niacin for cholesterol

There is a form of niacin that will not trigger as much flushing as regular niacin. The information on this form is contradictory, but some research indicates that it can be effective at both lowering ldl and raising hdl. It’s called extended release niacin.

People DO still get some flushing from this form, but much less. The issue of people not taking the regular form of niacin to lower cholesterol is because of the unpleasant flush, is not a problem with extended release niacin. Because it is so much milder, it may be more effective simply because people will not avoid taking it. This is called “patient compliance” in medical terms.

Together with using extended release niacin, other strategies to lessen the flush reaction are taking it with meals or snacks, and avoiding alcohol when taking it.

Niacin to lower cholesterol – dosage and side effects

Taking niacin for cholesterol, inhibits the breakdown of hdl in the body, which obviously results in higher hdl levels and a better cholesterol hdl ratio. Higher hdl levels alone lower the risk of heart disease, but niacin helps in another way, by lowering ldl levels as well.

Niacin taken at (1-3 grams/day) prevent the breakdown of fats which the liver uses to make lipoproteins. This lowers levels of both ldl and triglycerides, a very beneficial result. Lower triglyceride levels result in lower levels of ldl cholesterol which also lowers risk of heart attacks.

Side effects beyond the flushing reaction are rare but can include alterations in blood pressure, gastrointestinal distress, and liver damage. Although vitamins that lower cholesterol are safer than drugs, you really should seek expert medical advice when using niacin for cholesterol, both from the standpoint of safety and effectiveness.

You also need medical advice to avoid potential bad reactions from taking niacin for cholesterol with any drugs that you are on. Again the advice of a doctor is needed, because they are familiar with side effects and adverse reactions from combining drugs and nutrients.

Natural supplement or prescription

Odd as it might seem there ARE prescription forms of niacin. I have no information which suggests they work any better than what you can get over the counter, and in fact, they may have more side effects depending on how they were formulated.

If you are advised to take a prescription form of niacin for cholesterol, research the side effects very carefully as they are likely to be greater than what you would get with a natural supplement. You want to lower cholesterol naturally and safely!

Remember also that as effective as niacin is, you have to do all of the other things which protect you from heart disease, like eating a healthy diet, getting the right exercise, and reducing your stress. These strategies work together to keep your heart healthy.

A home cholesterol test is one way that you can begin taking more responsibility for your health, and understanding just how your diet and lifestyle affect your cholesterol values. A cholesterol blood test will determine if you have normal cholesterol levels, and if not, the cholesterol test results can be read and further interpreted by your doctor.

Testing in a home environment is just not as accurate as the tests performed in your doctor’s office. Home test kits are just not engineered to replace a full diagnostic lab, but they don’t have to. These tests are meant to help you keep track of your cholesterol values, and make adjustments to your diet and lifestyle when you need to.

Caution: Never substitute a home cholesterol test, or home testing (of any kind) for proper diagnosis and treatment from your doctor. Your physician can measure cholesterol levels much more precisely using lab tests that you can with a home test, so the lab work your doctor orders on your blood samples is the most accurate and best way to establish what your levels really are.

Home tests help you keep track of markers like cholesterol or blood sugar, but they are not meant to be substitutes for a proper medical test or diagnosis!

You need to be tested by your doctor to establish what is called a “baseline,” and once you know what this is, then home testing can tell you whether your levels are going up or down. These measurements are “relative” and their real value is helping you to track how your cholesterol levels are responding to diet and exercise.

Although the home cholesterol test is fairly accurate, it should be calibrated with the cholesterol blood test that you have in your doctor’s office. Take your home test kit with you and test yourself at the same time your doctor draws your blood for the full laboratory test.

That way you can see how the results of the two tests differ, and will be able to get an idea of just how far off the cholesterol test results are between the cholesterol blood test you get in the doctor’s office and the home cholesterol test.

When you buy online, read reviews carefully, do a little research into the product you are buying. Some of these cholesterol testing systems are expensive (over $100.00) dollars, require you to buy a testing unit, and additional test strips for it. This can run well over $100.00 for both.

Obviously you would not use a home cholesterol test as often as you would use a glucose monitor for instance. You are merely trying to track your normal cholesterol levels, and see how they respond to changes you make in your diet and lifestyle.

Here are some brands:

  •     CholesTrak, Home Access Instant Cholesterol Test
  •     Cardio Check (gives you both HDL and LDL level)
  •     Lifestream Personal Cholesterol Monitor (give you both HDL and LDL)

“Cardio Check” seemed to have by far the highest customer satisfaction ratings online.

A home cholesterol test should can run between $10.00 and $150.00 depending on how comprehensive the test is. Some tests only give you total cholesterol, which is not a very useful indicator. It may tell you how your total cholesterol levels is responding to diet or exercise, but it does not indicate real risk factors.

For that you need to know your HDL level, and a test that gives you both LDL and HDL levels will give you the information to assess risk factors more clearly. When you know both your LDL and HDL levels, you can calculate total cholesterol, as well as HDL/LDL ratio which is the best cholesterol values which indicate your heart disease risk.

The home cholesterol test to look for is one that at least gives you both HDL and LDL levels. These should run you about $30-$50 and are available online. Again you will have to check it for accuracy against the cholesterol blood test from your doctor, but if it gives you a somewhat reliable indicator of your cholesterol values, then it’s doing it’s job.

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.

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: