Lowering cholesterol has become a national past time, and with the increasing rates of heart disease, it’s easy to see why. Many doctors treat high cholesterol with drugs, but these cholesterol-lowering drugs can have serious side effects. The “Statin” drugs are a good example: they leach Coenzyme Q10 out of the body which in the long run can harm the heart muscle, the very organ it is supposed to protect.
Many people try to control cholesterol levels through diet, making the mistake of assuming that they only need to cut cholesterol out of their diet. In fact only 30% of total cholesterol comes from our diet. The other 70% is manufactured in our body. There are however, two simple substances that have been shown to lower cholesterol levels: soy and fiber. American studies have shown that 15 to 20 grams of soy protein per day lowered cholesterol dramatically in as little as nine weeks. Other studies have shown soluble fiber to be another effective cholesterol lowering agent.
Supplemental dietary fiber (aside from its role as a laxative) is used to treat irritable bowel syndrome and other disturbances of the colon, obesity as well as elevated cholesterol levels.
In 1994 the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reviewed a number of studies involving soluble-fiber supplementation, and their effect on lowering cholesterol levels. They found 88% of the studies (68 out of 77) indicated a significant reduction in total cholesterol due to fiber supplementation. The relationship was dose-dependant, so the higher the soluble fiber intake the greater the reduction in cholesterol.
Many of these studies used oat fiber, and it was found that 3 grams of oat fiber could lower total cholesterol from 8% up to 23%. Every 1% drop in cholesterol reduces the risk of developing heart disease by 2%. Other water-soluble fibers also lower cholesterol, such as pectin and guar gum. Food, including beans, whole grains and whole fruits also offer soluble fiber benefits.
Inulin (a soluble fiber derived from chicory) has been shown in many studies to lower serum triglycerides, reduce blood pressure and drop LDL (“Bad” cholesterol) while increasing HDL (“Good” cholesterol.) As little as 8 grams per day dropped total cholesterol 8% (reduced LDL over 10%) in 14 days. While excessively high fiber intake (more than 50g/day) can interfere with mineral absorption, Inulin is a fiber that does not do this.
Recent studies have shown that fiber can lower C-reactive protein in the body. C-reactive protein is a benchmark of inflammation found in the blood that indicates the onset of diseases that are inflammatory in nature. These include diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It is important that when you get blood work done that you ask for a C-reactive protein test, as it is a more important indicator of your potential for heart disease than a cholesterol reading. The researchers are uncertain as to how fiber affects the C-reactive protein levels but they have hypothesized that soluble fiber, which acts as a pre-biotic in the intestinal tract, may be increasing good bacteria and decreasing bad bacteria, thereby improving general health and preventing inflammation from occurring.
Fiber supplementation may reduce absorption of some drugs, so should be taken at different times than medication.
Fiber supplements in pill form can be dangerous, as they have been known to expand in the esophagus, creating a blockage in the intestinal tract. Fiber in a capsule is safer than tablets, but still should be used with caution. Be sure to drink extra water when taking a fiber supplement, especially in pill form.
Begin with small amounts of fiber (2grams, 3 times daily) and work up gradually (to 5grams, 3 times daily) in order to avoid causing flatulence.