Cholesterol, a yellowish fatty substance, is one of the essential ingredients of the body. Although
it is essential to life, it has a bad reputation, being a major villain in heart disease
. Every person
with a high blood cholesterol
is regarded as a potential candidate for heart attack, a stroke or
high blood pressure
Cholesterol is a building block of the outer membrane of cells. It is the principal ingredient in the
digestive juice bile, in the fatty sheaths that insulate nerves and in sex hormones, namely,
estrogen and androgen. It performs several functions such as transportation of fat, providing
defense mechanism, protecting red blood cells and muscular membrane of the body.
Most of the cholesterol found in the body is produced in the liver. However, about 20 to 30
percent generally comes from the foods we eat. Some cholesterol is also secreted into the
intestinal tract in bile and becomes mixed with the dietary cholesterol. The percentage of
ingested cholesterol absorbed seemed to average 40 to 50 percent of the intake. The body
excretes extra cholesterol from the system through bowels and kidneys.
The amount of cholesterol is measured in milligrams per 100 millimeters of blood. Normal level
of cholesterol varies between 150- 250 mg. per 100 ml. Persons with atherosclerosis have
uniformly high blood cholesterol
usually above 250 mg. per 100 ml.
In blood, cholesterol is bound to certain proteins
- lipoproteins which have an affinity for blood
fats, known as lipids. There are two main types of lipoproteins : a low density one (LDL) and a
high density one (HDL). The low density lipoprotein is the one which is considered harmful and
is associated with cholesterol deposits in blood vessels. The higher the ratio of LDL to the total
cholesterol, the greater the risk of arterial damage and heart disease
. The HDL on the other
hand plays a salutary role by helping remove cholesterol from circulation and thereby reduce the
risk of heart disease
Cholesterol has been the subject of extensive study by researchers since 1769, when French
chemist, Polutier de La Salle purified the soapy-looking yellowish substance. The results of the
most comprehensive research study, commissioned by the National Heart and Lung Institute of
the U.S.A. were announced about four years ago. The 10-year study, considered most elaborate
and most expensive research project in medical history, indicates that heart disease
linked to the level of cholesterol in the blood and that lowering cholesterol significantly reduces
of heart attacks. It has been estimated that for every one per cent reduction in
cholesterol, there is a decrease in the risk of heart attack by two per cent.
Hyperchjolsterolaemia or increase in cholestrol is mainly a digestive problem caused by rich
foods such as fried foods, excessive consumption of milk and its products like ghee,butter and
cream,white flour, sugar, cakes, pastries, biscuits, cheese, ice cream as well as non-vegetarian
foods like meat, fish and eggs. Other causes of increase in cholesterol are irregularity in habits,
smoking and drinking alcohol
has been found to be a major cause of increased level of cholesterol. Adrenaline and
cortison are both released in the body under stress
. This, in turn, produces a fat metabolising
reaction. Adrenal glands of executive type aggressive persons produce more adrenaline than
the easy going men. Consequently they suffer six to eight times more heart attacks than the
To reduce the risk of heart disease
, it is essential to lower the level of LDL and increase the level
of HDL. This can be achieved by improving the diet and changing the life style. Diet is the most
important factor. As a first step, foods rich in cholesterol and saturated fats, which lead to
increase in LDL level, should be reduced to the minimum. Cholesterol -rich foods are eggs,
organ meats and most cheese, butter, bacon, beef, whole milk, virtually all foods of animal origin
as well as two vegetable oils, namely coconut and palm, are high in saturated fats and these
should be replaced by polyunsaturated fats such as corn, safflower, sobayeans and sesame oils
which tend to lower the level of LDL. There are monosaturated fats such as olive and peanut oils
which have more or less neutral effect on the LDL level.
The American Heart Association recommends that men should restrict themselves to 300 mg. of
cholesterol a day and women to 275 mg. It also prescribes that fat should not make up more
than 30 per cent of the diet and not more than one third of this should be saturated. The
Association, however, urges a somewhat strict regimen for those who already have elevated
levels of cholesterol.
The amount of fibre in the diet also influences the cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol can be
lowered by taking diets rich in fibres. The most significant sources of dietary fibre are
unprocessed wheat bran, whole cereals such as wheat , rice, barley, rye; legumes such as
potato, carrot, beet and turnips; fruits like mango and guava and green vegetables such as
cabbage, lady's finger, lettuce and celery. Oat bran is especially beneficial in lowering LDL
Lecithin, also a fatty food substance and the most abundant of the phospholipids, is highly
beneficial in case of increase in cholesterol level. It has the ability to break up cholesterol into
small particles which can be easily handled by the system. With sufficient intake of lecithin,
cholesterol cannot build up against the walls of the arteries and veins. It also increases the
production of bile acids made from cholesterol, thereby reducing its amount in the blood. Egg
yolk, vegetable oils, whole grain cereals, soyabeans and unpasteurised milk are rich sources of
lecithin. The cells of the body are also capable of synthesizing it as needed, if several of the B
vitamins are present.
Diets high in vitamin B6, cholin and inositol supplied by wheat germ, yeast, or B vitamins
extracted from bran have been particularly effective in reducing blood cholesterol. Sometimes
vitamin E elevates blood lecithin and reduces cholesterol presumably by preventing the essential
fatty acids from being destroyed by oxygen.
Persons with high blood cholesterol
level should drink at least eight to 10 glasses of water every
day as regular drinking of water stimulates the excretory activity of the skin and kidneys. This in
turn facilitates elimination of excessive cholesterol from the system. Regularly drinking of
coriander (dhania) water also helps lower blood cholesterol as it is a good diuretic and
stimulates the kidneys. It is prepared by boiling dry seeds of coriander and straining the
decoction after cooling.
Regular exercise also plays an important role in lowering LDL cholesterol and in raising the level
of protective HDL. It also promotes circulation and helps maintain the blood flow to every part of
the body. Jogging or brisk walking, swimming, bicycling and playing badminton are excellent
forms of exercise.
Yogasnas are highly beneficial as they help increase perspiratory activity and stimulate
sebaceous glands to effectively secrete accumulated or excess cholesterol from the muscular
. Asanas like ardhamatsyaendrasana, shalabhasana, padmasanaand vajrasana are useful
in lowering blood cholesterol by increasing systemic activity.
Hydrotherapy can be successfully employed in reducing excess cholesterol. Cold hip baths for
10 minutes taken twice every day have proved beneficial. Steam baths are also helpful except in
patients suffering from hypertension and other circulatory disorders. Mud packs, applied over the
abdomen improve digestion and assimilation. They improve the functioning of the liver and other
digestive organs and activate kidneys and the intestines to promote better excretion.