Diabetes Self-Management Articles

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Natural Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol

by Amy Campbell, MS, RD, CDE

Policosanol is a fatty compound that can be derived from sugar cane, beeswax, wheat germ, and rice bran. Initial studies with this supplement indicated that it may be just as effective as statins at lowering LDL. But those studies were almost all conducted by a single research group in Cuba and were sponsored by a Cuban company that markets policosanol. A study conducted in Germany using Cuban sugar cane–derived policosanol at four different doses found no benefit to taking policosanol (results were published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2006). Subsequent studies by a variety of researchers similarly failed to show any lipid-lowering effect of policosanol.

Side effects of policosanol are mild and consist primarily of rash, fatigue, headache, weight loss, and insomnia. Policosanol may increase the blood-thinning effects of aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin) and clopidogrel (Plavix). It may also increase the effects of levodopa, a drug used for Parkinson disease.

Guggulipid is a supplement derived from the resin of the mukul myrrh tree. It contains compounds called guggulsterones, which initially were shown to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in both human and animal studies done in India. In these studies, guggulipid lowered LDL cholesterol by 12% and triglycerides by 15%.

However, in another study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2003, 85 otherwise healthy men and women were given either a placebo, 1,000 mg of guggulipid three times a day, or 2,000 mg of guggulipid three times a day. At the end of the study, LDL cholesterol actually increased by 5% in the 1,000-mg group and by 7% in the 2,000-mg group. However, triglyceride levels dropped by about 14% in the subjects with the highest LDL levels. Additionally, C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, dropped by 28% in the group receiving the highest dose of guggulipid.

Since the study was published, there has been little enthusiasm to continue researching guggulipid. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is not recommended for people with liver disease, kidney disease, or inflammatory bowel disease.

Garlic has long been believed to help lower cholesterol. However, a study published in Archives of Internal Medicine in 2007 tested raw garlic and two brands of garlic supplements in adults with high LDL, and none of the forms lowered their cholesterol after six months. Previous research indicated that garlic did cause a drop in LDL, but only temporarily.

On the plus side, garlic may offer some benefit in reducing the risk of heart disease by means other than lowering cholesterol. For example, it’s been shown to slightly lower blood pressure. It may also lower the risk of some types of cancer. Fortunately for garlic lovers, side effects are few. However, those who take blood-thinner medicines such as aspirin, warfarin, or clopidogrel are at increased risk for bleeding if they also take garlic.

Ginger has been used for centuries in traditional medicine in Asia and India, primarily to treat digestive disorders, arthritis, and heart conditions. It’s currently used in modern medicine to treat nausea associated with chemotherapy, motion sickness, and even morning sickness during pregnancy. Ginger may also help fight heart disease and lower cholesterol.

A small study published in the journal Saudi Medical Journal in 2008 looked at the effects of taking 3,000 mg per day of ginger for 45 days in people with high cholesterol. The results were promising: Total cholesterol dropped by 13 mg/dl, and triglycerides dropped by 9.5 mg/dl. However, the authors of the study point out that this was a small study and that the effects of ginger on blood lipids should be confirmed in a larger study.

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