PLANT STEROLS are substances derived from vegetable products that interfere with the absorption of cholesterol and can lower cholesterol levels by as much as 13 percent. You can buy them as supplements at health food stores and drugstores, or in fortified foods such as margarine, granola bars, and orange juice. The NCEP recommends 2 to 3 grams of plant sterols daily. When Pat Gidley, 59, was diagnosed with a cholesterol count of 312 mg/dL last year, her doctor prescribed medication. After experiencing side effects, Gidley stopped using the drugs and started taking half the recommended dose of a plant-sterol supplement daily. Three months later, her cholesterol was down to 287 mg/dL. She continued taking the supplement, switched from white to brown rice, and from canned to fresh fruits and vegetables. She started cycling three times a week and taking Pilates classes. This past April, Gidley’s total cholesterol had dropped to 264 mg/dL.
RED YEAST RICE, a botanical with a chemical structure similar to that of the statin medications prescribed by physicians, blocks production of cholesterol by the liver. A 2004 study in Circulation confirmed previous studies documenting both the cholesterol- and triglyceride-lowering effects of red yeast rice. Guarneri warns it should be prescribed by a physician.
THE B-VITAMIN NIACIN significantly raises HDLs and can also lower triglycerides. In a 2003 review in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, researchers explained that niacin causes an increase in HDL levels by blocking the body’s process of breaking down and eliminating HDL. Guarneri stresses that niacin supplements should be taken only in prescribed doses under a healthcare practitioner’s supervision and should be avoided in people with liver disease, gout, and ulcers.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS have been proven to reduce triglyceride levels by as much as 30 percent, according to a 1997 review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Omega-3 supplements are made from fish oils or flaxseed. Both lower triglycerides, but flaxseed oil must be taken in larger doses to get the same effect. Talk to your doctor about the correct dose.