Cholesterol and Diabetes

Food Item
Cholesterol (mg)
3 oz Beef Liver 331
8 oz Whole Milk 31
1 whole egg 212
½ cup vanilla ice cream25
4 oz Beef Steak 76
1 tsp butter 10
3 small boiled shrimp32
8 oz skim milk 9

“People want some kind of magic powder to sprinkle on their food to lower cholesterol, but the best treatment is weight loss and eating better, exercise, and quitting smoking, which will give you the best results and may allow a person to avoid medications entirely,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, MD, professor of nutrition at Tufts University and spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

Soluble fiber is very effective at lowering cholesterol. The best way to get fiber is to eat a variety of whole grains and vegetables daily, but fiber supplements work, too. Exactly how fiber reduces cholesterol is not agreed upon, but it appears to bind to cholesterol and bile acids in the intestine, making it unavailable for absorption. When the liver needs to replace the bile acids excreted with the fiber, it pulls cholesterol from the bloodstream to make more bile acids. “Throw in the fact that fiber has all kinds of other benefits for your entire digestive system, and fiber becomes one of the best dietary means of lowering cholesterol,” says Roberta Lee, MD, medical director for the Center for Health and Healing at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

If those measures are ineffective, your doctor will likely prescribe a statin, a highly effective class of drugs to lower your cholesterol levels.

There are some alternative treatments available, but you should always consult with your physician before using them, since some of them may alter the effectiveness of other prescribed drugs. “Research shows that 70% of patients are reluctant to share information about alternative therapies they may be taking with their doctor,” says Lichtenstein. “That’s a real mistake in general, but especially when it comes to reducing high cholesterol. You need to let your doctor in on everything you’re taking before you take it.”

Here are a few alternatives to statins that are beneficial and not all hype:

  • Niacin is a B-complex vitamin that at high doses lowers cholesterol. Adding niacin to prescribed statin drugs is also a common practice. This combination can decrease cholesterol more than statins alone and appears to raise levels of beneficial cholesterol (HDL). However, this therapy requires medical monitoring because of the potential for side effects, such as muscle breakdown.
  • Stanol esters are in certain margarines, such as Take Control or Benecol; also available in pill-form supplements. This supplement is plant-derived and can reduce cholesterol by as much as 10% by stopping the absorption of cholesterol. They may be used in combination with statin drugs. Lee points out that stanol esters should be used as part of a treatment plan and in consultation with your doctor.
  • Red yeast rice contains a natural form of the statin drug Mevacor. Some initial research has shown red yeast rice to be effective in lowering cholesterol but, according to Lee, the FDA has some issues with it because herbal doses can vary widely, which is not something you want in cholesterol control.

Sources

Mayo Clinic

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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