Understanding and Managing Your Cholesterol Effectively

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do you typically have chest pain or feel like your heart is flip-flopping around in your chest? Sometimes do you find it hard to catch your breath? Are you feeling run down and lacking energy? Do you get dizzy suddenly without any known cause?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you could have an issue with your heart. Cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is disease of the heart and blood vessels, is the leading cause of death in the state of California. Unfortunately, many symptoms of CVD are what people consider small events or just a little pain that happens daily. This is why CVD is often considered a “silent killer.” In 2001, one in three of the Californians diagnosed with heart disease had been told they had high cholesterol. But did you know that cholesterol is a risk factor that can be modified or changed to help prevent CVD?

How is cholesterol linked to CVD? Cholesterol, also known as blood lipids or fat, can make blood thicker and the cholesterol particles stick to the walls of blood vessels. When cholesterol sticks to the walls of blood vessels, this not only causes damage to the wall itself, but it can also lead to blood flow being blocked. Anytime blood flow is blocked it means that blood, and therefore oxygen and nutrients, will not make it to the cells that need it. This can lead to tissue and organ damage.

Do you know your cholesterol status?

Do you know if you have elevated cholesterol? Typically, health care providers will order a lipid panel which looks at your blood levels of triglycerides, LDL (low density lipids), and HDL (high density lipids). We all know that LDL is the “bad cholesterol” and HDL is the “good cholesterol.” We want to lower our LDL and increase our HDL while keeping our total cholesterol in a healthy range.

How can San Francisco Natural Medicine Help?

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Data shows that looking at the subpopulations of HDL, markers for inflammation, and blood sugar regulation status can better define a patient’s risk of CVD. Therefore, at San Francisco Natural Medicine, we offer more than basic cholesterol testing. Our doctors at SFNM can order these specific tests to get not only a more detailed picture of your lipids, but also look at the size of your lipid particles and the type of HDL particles that are most beneficial. This advanced lipid testing can also let you know if your body is making too much cholesterol or if you are absorbing too much cholesterol from the foods you eat. We also will look at your inflammation and diabetes risk—both of which can play a crucial role in CVD.  Did you know that more research is showing that inflammation is a key component in damage to blood vessels? Using information from these labs, our doctors can establish an individualized treatment plan to help you reduce your cholesterol burden.

What can I do now for my cholesterol burden?

Until you are able to visit us here at SFNM, what can you do to help lower your cholesterol? Here are the best foods to help lower and maintain a healthy level of good cholesterol.


Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is an omega-3 fatty acid. Having a high EPA level has been shown to be associated with a lower occurrence of coronary artery disease in people. Oily fish is the best food source for EPA. Pacific herring, salmon, trout, tuna, and crab all contain high amounts of EPA.

Oats for fiber

Cereals and grains are typically thought of as good sources for fiber. Oats and oat bran, in particular, have high amounts of viscous fiber which has been found to lower total and LDL cholesterol. You don’t just have to eat oatmeal in the mornings. Try sprinkling oats on salad for a little crunch. And if gluten is an issue or concern, Bob’s Red Mill has gluten-free oats.

Image courtesy of Iamnee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Iamnee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Legumes and vegetables for fiber

Fiber is not just in cereals and grains. You should remember that high amounts of fiber can be found also in legumes, such as beans, peas, and lentils, and in vegetables like artichokes hearts, spinach, brussels sprouts, and winter squash. Research has found that eating legumes can decrease total and LDL cholesterol levels.


Including nuts in your diet can be a good source of fiber, phytosterols, and essential fatty acids. Almonds, pistachio nuts, peanuts, and pecans have high amounts of these nutrients and have been found to help lower both total and LDL cholesterol.

Plant sterols

Cooking with unrefined plant based oils which are high in phytosterols (plant sterols) can help decrease total and LDL cholesterol in the blood. Rice bran oil, sesame oil, corn oil, canola oil, and olive oil contain high amounts of plant sterols. Just make sure not to heat olive and sesame oils to high temperatures because they can burn causing them to be less beneficial to your health.

Great meal idea

Oat crusted baked salmon and a side salad of mixed greens sprinkled with peas and almond slices, drizzled with olive oil.

Cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, stroke and heart attacks, is the leading cause of death and disability in California and the United States. Having the “average risk” of CVD is not good enough. If we want to age healthfully and prevent these common and serious conditions, we must have lower than average cardiovascular risk. Our doctors at SFNM are well-trained and experienced in strategies to prevent the onset of CVD and aid in the management of people with diagnosed CVD. We are always here to help!