The 411 on cholesterol is this—you need it to live. Here’s why: Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that plays a key role in the production of important hormones, like vitamin D, as well as feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain like serotonin and dopamine. It also helps create substances in the body that break down and digest foods properly.
In many ways, cholesterol is your friend—unless your ratios are out of whack. In general, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that a heathy range for total cholesterol should be between 220 and 240 mg/dl. However, most doctors in the U.S. recommend total cholesterol be under 200 mg/dL. HDL (“good” cholesterol) should be at 50 mg/dL or higher, and LDL (“bad” cholesterol) should be between 60 and 130 mg/dL. Triglycerides, which are another type of blood fat, should be 150 mg/dL or less. Many people believe that the ratio between your good and bad cholesterol levels is all that matters, but the ratio between your triglyceride levels and your HDL is what’s truly important and should ideally be a ratio of 3. For example, a ratio of 150 mg/dL triglycerides to 50 mg/dL HDL would be very good and indicate a lower risk of heart disease.
If your lipid levels are too high, your doctor may recommend a change in your diet or a statin medication. The good news is that you may be able to avoid filling that prescription by turning to some of nature’s powerful cholesterol-lowering medicines.
Grape Seed Extract
Grape seed extract can prevent the dangerous oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Oxidized LDL is one of the first steps on the road to a heart attack or stroke. A clinical trial found that taking OPC-rich grape seed extract after eating a high-fat meal prevented oxidation. Those not taking the supplement, however, experienced an unhealthy 150 percent increase in oxidation. Other studies suggest that grape seed extract can also lower total cholesterol by an average of 10.7 mg/dL and LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 9.7 mg/dL.
The most beneficial compounds in grape seed extract are the oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), which should be standardized to be small in size, making them highly absorbable. For optimal benefits, look for a clinically studied, standardized, tannin-free French grape seed extract.
In clinical studies, berberine was found to help raise levels of HDL cholesterol. It is also known for its ability to reduce unhealthy triglyceride numbers. In one clinical study, berberine reduced triglycerides by 35 percent in just three months. Another study showed that berberine decreased triglyceride levels by an average of 50 mg/dL in the same amount of time. When choosing a berberine supplement, look for a bark and root extract from Berberis aristata, also known as Indian Barberry.
Andrographis—and especially its primary component, andrographolide—has been shown in scientific studies to safely lower total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides. Best of all, it does this without causing the side effects that often arise in people taking statin drugs.
In one preliminary study, researchers found that andrographis reduced total cholesterol levels by as much as 24 percent. More recently, andrographis was found to prevent the accumulation of oxidized LDL particles (which are especially dangerous) inside arteries.
A clinical trial also found that andrographis extract was just as effective as gemfibrozil, a drug that reduces the amounts of fat produced by the liver in patients with elevated triglycerides. For ultimate cholesterol support, look for an andrographis extract that provides a total of 80 mg of andrographolides per serving.