Q. What herbs help to lower cholesterol?
-- Deborah O'Connor, Barrie, Ont.
A. Expert Penny Kendall-Reed replies:
Although some herbs, including garlic and sage, can help lower cholesterol, there are natural supplements that have been clinically shown to be more effective. These products are available in supplement form in health food stores and supplement sections of drugstores. I recommend the following ones.
A soy isoflavone is an extract from soy that is structurally similar to some of our own hormones. It increases the production of HDL, or "good," cholesterol and decreases the production of LDL, or "bad," cholesterol. Products that have a high level of isoflavone include tofu burgers, miso soup and soy pudding. But you would have to eat 20 to 25 grams of soy isoflavones, or about 1-1/2 tofu burgers, daily to get a health-enhancing dose.
General dose: For most people, 50 milligrams in capsule form of soy isoflavones one to two times a day on an empty stomach will help keep cholesterol levels in a healthy range.
Essential fatty acids. These fatty acids help protect against the oxidation of good cholesterol (oxidation increases the stickiness of cholesterol so it adheres more readily to the lining of the arteries and greatly increases your risk of arteriosclerosis and heart disease).
General dose: Take 2,000 milligrams a day with food. I recommend a combination formula of omega-3, 6 and 9 essential fatty acids in capsule form (there is a liquid form but the product becomes rancid when exposed to oxygen when you open the bottle).
Policosinols. These sugar cane extracts function like statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) in that they inhibit enzymes that increase the production of cholesterol. But unlike statins, policosinols have no side-effects such as muscle stiffness or stomach problems.
General dose: Five to 10 milligrams in pill form twice a day on an empty stomach.
Guggul lipids. These are tree resins that help the liver break down and recycle cholesterol as well as increase the excretion of cholesterol in the feces.
General dose: Take 500 milligrams in pill form twice a day on an empty stomach.
Supplements, of course, should be an adjunct to a healthy lifestyle, not a replacement. See a health-care practitioner before starting any new supplements.
Penny Kendall-Reed is a naturopath and clinic director at Urban Wellness in Toronto. She is author of The Naturopathic Diet and The New Naturopathic Diet and coauthor of Healing Arthritis, The Complete Doctor's Healthy Back Bible and The Complete Doctor's Stress Solution.