Down With Cholesterol
Lower your numbers with a heart-smart diet that may help reduce LDL and triglycerides.
WHAT THEY ARE
Heart-healthy foods or supplements that contain fish oil, psyllium and garlic. According to the American Dietetic Association, there’s strong evidence that fish oil can reduce triglycerides and that psyllium can decrease LDL, the “bad” cholesterol. There’s more modest evidence that garlic may lower LDL.
WHERE TO GET THEM
Your best bet is to eat more foods containing these substances. Garlic is self-evident. Fatty fish—such as salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines and albacore tuna—are rich in omega-3s. Psyllium (a source of soluble fiber) is found in cereals such as Kellogg’s All-Bran Bran Buds.
If you go the supplement route, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends, in consultation with a doctor, 1 gram of fish oil daily for those with diagnosed heart disease and 2 to 4 grams daily for those with high triglycerides. Possible side effects include a fishy aftertaste, bad breath, gas, upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea.
A typical dose of psyllium seed husk is 5 grams twice a day. If you’re using a product such as Metamucil, follow the package instructions. To prevent bowel obstruction, psyllium powder or capsules should be taken with water or juice, followed by plenty of fluids throughout the day. Possible side effects: stomachache or upset stomach, diarrhea, gas and constipation.
A typical supplemental dose of garlic is 600 to 1,200 milligrams a day, divided into thirds. Possible side effects: bad breath, body odor, heartburn, gas, upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea.
EVIDENCE SO FAR
According to the AHA, studies have found that fish oil supplements can decrease the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. These supplements also can slow the progression of atherosclerosis in people who already have heart disease. The AHA says that one major way fish oil reduces risk is by lowering triglyceride levels. It also decreases blood pressure slightly and slows the rate at which cholesterol and other substances build up inside arteries.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved claims stating that the soluble fiber in psyllium seed husk, when consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Psyllium acts by decreasing LDL. For people whose cholesterol is already too high, a scientific review (Cardiology in Review, 2007) concluded that taking psyllium in addition to a cholesterol-lowering drug may make it possible to use a lower
dose of medicine.
THE JURY’S STILL OUT
When it comes to garlic, the research findings are less clear-cut. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, short-term studies using various garlic preparations have consistently found small reductions in LDL and triglycerides. However, longer-term studies haven’t shown the same benefits. In a recent study, for example, people with moderately high cholesterol were randomly assigned to take either raw garlic, a powdered garlic supplement, an aged garlic extract supplement or a placebo. After six months, none of the forms of garlic used in the study led to any improvements (Archives of Internal Medicine, February 2007)
THE BOTTOM LINE
To keep cholesterol down, eating smart and exercising regularly should be everyone’s first line of defense. But talk to your doctor about whether taking cholesterol-reducing supplements may be worth taking to heart as well.