vitamin-d-sourcesFew people are aware of the relationship between vitamin d and cholesterol, but it’s an important one and it shouldn’t be ignored. Although it’s called a vitamin, it’s actually a hormone and a deficiency of it can be life threatening!

It’s Actually a Hormone

Vitamin d refers to a number of is a fat soluble steroid molecules that are involved in the absorption of important minerals in your intestinal tract.

The two most important factors are:
vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol)

It’s also called the “sunshine vitamin” because it can be bio synthesized in your body when your skin is exposed to natural sunlight. This is especially important to people of African ancestry that live in temperate climates that have long winters.

Since their darker skin pigmentation filters out some of the suns rays, they are at increased risk of deficiency because of their skin filtering out natural sunlight (especially during long winters.)

For black people, supplements are a MUST! It appears that pretty much every disease that people of African descent suffer from disproportionately is linked with vitamin d deficiency. This is not widely known, but can still cause lots of health problems that could be avoided with wise use of supplementation.

The Cholesterol Connection

The human body is amazingly resourceful at bio synthesizing what it needs from what we put into our bodies. Thus when we have a deficiency of vitamin d the body will make it from cholesterol. This can cause your cholesterol levels to rise, because your body needs the extra cholesterol in order to synthesize this vitamin/hormone.

You have read in this blog that lowering cholesterol is not necessarily needed to prevent heart disease because it has been found not to be a direct causative factor. However if your cholesterol levels are elevated because of a lack of vitamin d then you need to take steps to supply your body with this nutrient by getting more sun exposure and taking supplements when you can’t get enough sun, such as in the winter.

Elevated cholesterol levels can indicate other problems in your body that you need to address. This is another reason why statin use can be problematic. It can mask the symptom (elevated cholesterol) that is being caused by another problem (like vitamin d deficiency).

Effects of Vitamin D Deficiency

  • increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • depression
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • increased risk of cancer
  • increased risk of infection
  • increased risk of multiple sclerosis

Some Food Sources of Vitamin D

  • Cod liver oil
  • Butter from grass fed cows
  • Beef or Calves liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Cheese
  • Water packed tuna
  • Oil packed sardines

Supplementing Vitamin D

Supplementary forms of this vitamin can be found in any health food store. My favorite is Jarrow Formulas D3. I opt for 5,000 units per day in the winter and half that dosage in the summer. It is difficult to overdose on this vitamin, as long as you are not using a synthetic version of it.

The ideal situation is that you get your levels tested by a doctor and do follow ups until the levels are where they are supposed to be. This is a fat soluble vitamin and so should be taken with a meal that contains healthy fats.

Vitamin k2 should be taken with vitamin d as those two nutrients work togegher to ewnsure that your body handles calcium properly. One of the top experts on vitamin K2 Dr. Rheaume Bleue suggests a ratio of 100-200 micrograms of K2 for every 1,000 IUs of vitamin d.   Again I would go with Jarrow Formulas MK-7, combined with their D3 product.

Sun Expose is Healthy

It’s been said before, but bears repeating…sun exposure is HEALTHY! Human beings evolved on the surface of the Earth. We NEED sun exposure in order for out bodies to function properly. Don’t avoid getting sunlight, because if you do, you are undermining your health in a critical way.

sunshine vitamin

sunshine helps your body synthesize vitamin D

Use common sense of course. Don’t overdo it, as too much of anything can be a problem, but remember that getting out in the sun and fresh air has benefits that go far beyond making you feel good and improving your mood.

How Much Sun Exposure?

This depends on how dark your skin is. Light skinned people should avoid prolonged exposure such as beyond 10-15 minutes in the sun. Darker skinned people of course can tolerate longer exposure, but you should be conservative with your time in the sun and gradually build a tolerance to sun exposure over time as you get more tanned.

Wearing a wide brim hat, proper sunglasses, and long sleeve clothing can help protect you as well. Remember also that you can get burned even on a hazy day because enough of the suns rays still get through and you may not be aware of how long you have been exposed.

Remember also that sunblock will prevent your body from making the vitamin d it needs from sun exposure, so If you are using sun screens on your skin you are defeating the purpose of getting sunlight.

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.

pantothenic acid capsulesPantothenic acid benefits are not well known to most people but they have important effects on your cardiovascular health. D-calcium pantothenate is helpful in raising HDL cholesterol level, which helps lower your risk of heart disease.

Since the cutting edge in modern medicine involves the use of targeted nutritional supplements to fight disease rather than defaulting to drugs as a first resort, we need to become familiar with some key nutrients and learn how they can help protect against heart disease!

What is pantothenic acid?

D-calcium pantothenate or pantothenic acid is a water soluble b-vitamin (vitamin-b5). It is a very important nutrient and is a precursor to coenzyme A. Coenzyme A is utilized in the metabolism of carbohydrates, and the synthesis of fatty acids, and steroid hormones.

Deficiency of this vitamin in human beings is rare and usually only occurs in bad cases of malnutrition. Symptoms of deficiency include numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, fatigue, headaches, and insomnia.

Pantothenic acid benefits

There are a number of well documented health benefits associated with d-calcium pantothenate such as:

  • Raises HDL cholesterol level
  • Improves skin tone
  • Accelerates healing
  • Protects against lipid peroxidation
  • Increases energy levels
  • Accelerates post surgery healing
  • Helps healing after burn injuries
  • Enhances epithelial function

The most important of the pantothenic acid benefits is it’s ability to raise HDL levels. This is what most directly affects your risk of heart disease. Pantethine is the active form of vitamin B5. Clinical research studies show that pantethine can reduce triglycerides and cholesterol levels and increase HDL levels at the same time.

Food sources of d-calcium pantothenate

Pantothenic acid can be found in common foods and also taken in supplement form. You can get it in the following foods:

  • Meats
  • Whole grains
  • Egg yolks
  • Vegetables like broccoli and avocado
  • Rice
  • Cold water fish

Pantothenic acid benefits can also come from supplements of d-calcium panothenate taken in dosages of 50-100 mg per day. There is no known toxicity threshold for this nutrient and dosages of several grams per day have been reported as having beneficial effects with no signs of toxicity.

Since few doctors are familiar with nutritional supplements and how they should be used, your doctor will probably not be receptive to the idea or know just how these nutrients should be incorporated into your diet.

You should seek the advice of a doctor who practices complementary and integrative medicine, as the best person to advise you in this area. These doctors combine traditional treatments with nutrition and holistic therapies, to get the best results of both approaches.

The best approach is to calibrate the dosage with how you feel and what your objectives are. Raising HDL cholesterol is the most notable of d-calcium pantothenate effects, and you should adjust your dosage to optimize your HDL levels. You may want to have your HDL cholesterol checked to provide a baseline to compare against. This way you will know if it is working.

Pantothenic acid benefits are that this powerful nutrient can help optimize your cholesterol profile and significantly lower your risk of heart disease. It is non toxic and vital to energy production. When you add this vitamin to your nutritional regimen you will significantly improve the quality of your life.

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.

Cholesterol too low, how can this be a problem? We have all heard about the supposed relationship of heart disease to cholesterol levels, so we assume that lower is better. NOT SO!

cholesterol too lowEverything in your body is based on maintaining a balance, and cholesterol profiles are no exception.  Low cholesterol levels can be just as unhealthy as levels that are too high.

The belief that simply lowering cholesterol will protect you from heart attacks has been encouraged by the pharmaceutical industry and those medical professionals that serve it.  While cholesterol is a factor, there are other things involved such as inflammation, that make a big difference.

The risks of various serious medical conditions rise for those individuals having a total cholesterol level of under 160 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter).  That said, some experts recommend that the ideal is somewhere between 180mg/dl and 200mg/dl for total cholesterol, (but even this is subject to controversy)

What causes low cholesterol?

Cholesterol that’s too low can be caused by:

  • Use of statin drugs
  • Malnutrition
  • Malabsorption – inadequate absorption of nutrients from the intestines
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Manganese deficiency
  • Celiac disease
  • Leukemia and other blood diseases

Please note:  Excessively low cholesterol levels need to be evaluated by a trained medical professional to determine the cause and the proper treatment. It is important not only to know what causes low cholesterol, but also having a proper treatment strategy in place to make sure you address it.

When you optimize cholesterol naturally, this is not a problem, because you are not trying to curtail your own body’s production of cholesterol, but rather preventing re-absorption through the large intestine.

You will NOT bring your cholesterol too low with this approach.

Effects of low cholesterol

Hypocholesterolemia – cholesterol too low, has been associated with a number of serious medical disorders such as:

  • Reduced production of your body’s steroid hormones
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of strokes
  • Increased risk of depression/bipolar disorder
  • Increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Possible loss of memory
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Increased risk of schizophrenia

Effects of low cholesterol are very serious, and you need to focus not on simply lowering cholesterol, but achieving a healthy level based on your individual biochemistry.  With cholesterol too low, many vital chemical processes can’t be completed properly.

Cholesterol too low? – So what is the right approach?

The correct approach is not to simply focus on lowering cholesterol, just as weight loss should not simply be about losing weight.  Rather than making your cholesterol too low, this process will allow you to achieve the right balance.

That process includes:

  • Proper eating
  • Proper exercise
  • Nutritional supplementation
  • Stress reduction

Proper eating should include foods that are low in cholesterol but also nutrient dense, and which contain plenty of fiber. This is because fiber can absorb excess cholesterol as it passes through the large intestine and is then excreted out of the body in the stool.  The recommended fiber consumption is about 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men.

Proper exercise is short and intense, like interval training, but ultimately should be moderated by the age and physical condition of the person doing it. Be cautious and seek professional guidance in setting up an exercise program if you are an older person, or if you have a serious medical condition.

Nutritional supplementation should include full spectrum vitamin and mineral formula. A high quality fish oil is also a key supplement that will lower your risk of heart disease and every other medical condition you can think of. Sufficient levels of omega 3 fatty acids are essential to good health, and fish oil supplies these.

Stress reduction uses various techniques to lower stress and promote relaxation and tranquility. Among these, grounding is one of the most effective. Other strategies like meditation, the speed trace, and various other relaxation techniques can be very effective.

Having your cholesterol too low is a risk factor for chronic disease. A balanced approach, rather than just low cholesterol levels is the answer. Doing the things mentioned above should allow you to naturally achieve the right balance.

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: