By: Mau – Northampton, MA

I had a FB convo with a friend that’s currently living in Pakistan. She’s been worried about her high cholesterol. I gave her some basic tips, that may seem counter-intuitive for many, on lowering cholesterol. It’s a long post but read it through if you or someone you know is concerned about their cholesterol.

Friend: Hey Mau! I know it’s been a while and I hope this finds you well! A friend mentioned that you had high cholesterol and were able to effectively manage it without prescription medication. So currently my cholesterol is at 246 and my LDL situation is pretty bad too and the doctor’s are thinking of putting me on statins but I want to avoid this at all costs. The doctor wants me to get my lipid profile done after two weeks to see if I can manage to lower the cholesterol level in a two week period with certain lifestyle choices. I was wondering if you had any suggestions for me that really work! I live pretty well. My diet is mostly legumes, and fruits. I don’t eat much saturated fat or meat. I eat eggs twice a week. However the bad news is most desi food is cooked in lots of canola oil, So I am not sure how this tips the balance. Either way I am probably filling you in with too many unnecessary details. Thanks for hearing me out and truly any advice you could impart would be super helpful!

Mau: So good to hear from you. Cholesterol is such a funny thing. When there’s a lot of it in your bloodstream it can indicate a few different things. Often the body dumps cholesterol in the blood when it is trying to protect itself from something, toxicity, pathogens, sugar, etc. or when it is having difficulty converting the cholesterol into hormones – what some may call an endocrine imbalance. Most of your hormones are built from cholesterol -it’s the raw material. Diet does affect your blood cholesterol but this is only part of the equation. I don’t claim to know but my studies and personal experience tells me that a diet with moderate cholesterol and saturated fat is NOT correlated with raising LDL. As a matter of fact, vegetable oil, especially when heated excessively, has shown to raise LDL and lower HDL in the blood. Excessive sugar also has this effect and tends to activate the fat storing mechanism and raises triglycerides in the blood. Several years ago my cholesterol (LDL) was borderline high. I started eating a lot more butter, coconut oil, eggs etc. (seems against common sense) and pushed out sugar completely and banned vegetable oils from my diet. Fruit sugar is ok but only between meals and little bits – that’s how my body likes it anyway. I think the most important aspect about the changes I made to my diet that lowered my LDL and raised my HDL is that I pushed out sugar and crappy vegetable oil. I then had to get my calories from other sources; specifically greens: dark leafy greens, broccoli, legumes, etc. If the case is that your hormones are out of balance (energy roller coaster, emotional swings, irregular periods, etc) then you’d be best off nourishing your endocrine system and helping your body detoxify. Hormones are built from fat, cholesterol, and micronutrients- minerals and vitamins. If you are getting these from your diet then it’s easy for your body to find balance again.

Okay, so sorry I’ve been babbling. I’m on the bus from Boston to Noho and I’m feeling kind of stream of consciousness.

Basic recommendation: more greens, more veggies, eggs are fine, try to stay away from vegetable oils like canola, try to stay away from sugar, even hidden sugars, light on the fruits, butter is good, ghee is better. Use good dirty salt if you can get it – Himalayan pink or Celtic. These recommendations are totally generalized. I don’t really know what’s going on with your body obviously, but this is some basic stuff that would help just about anybody.

Friend: This is so awesome and comforting, I am going to try these things. My HDL is very good apparently while the others are bad. I am working on switching over to ghee and getting the canola out. A stream of consciousness is welcomed I really need to think of every possible angle that I can. You have explained shit way better to me than any doctor yet. I appreciate your advice immensely and you can expect more badgering exchanges.

So when you say hidden sugar what exactly are you referring to? Is white rice a no no? Not that I have much but still. Also someone recommended honey and cinnamon to me as potentially being helpful to lower cholesterol, have you heard anything about this? What was also recommended was fish oil, didn’t know if you had experimented with this stuff. It’s too bad that it is almost impossible to find good leafy greens here which impedes this process.

Mau: Hidden sugar is either refined sugar where you wouldn’t expect it – bread, peanut butter, chutney, etc. and also what’s called “high glycemic foods” this is stuff that turns into sugar too quickly and pummels your bloodstream with glucose, triggering the insulin response, ie. white rice, white bread, etc. I’m not saying to stay away from these things entirely, just be mindful of how often and how much you eat if them. I don’t know what you have available, what’s common to eat in Karachi. Do you have a local market nearby? Is kicheree familiar? I know a few things about the Ayurvedic approach to healing through diet but not sure how that wisdom is held in modern Pakistan. Do you have access to any Ayurvedic healers?

Friend: Hmmm… I could ask around, I am sure we can find the same kind of goods here in modern Pakiland. We also have herbalists and for us kicheree just means a mixture of rice and daal! Damn this is hard though I just wish I had a list of shit that I could eat. But I will manage! Thanks for breaking it down for me and being patient with my noob ass 

A month Later…

Mau! My cholesterol went down by a hundred in just 3 weeks. I am in perfectly normal ranges now. I started taking fish oil, cooking in ghee, had honey and cinnamon every morning on an empty stomach, ate more leafy greens, reduced all the bad things you mentioned and it worked! It’s honestly like magic. I am so happy.