Health & Wellness

Using Supplements To Lower Cholesterol: Can Fiber And Other Supplements Really Help?

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Cholesterol treatmentLowering cholesterol can be challenging. Sometimes eating healthily is just not sufficient to get your cholesterol levels to a safe range. Many people do not want to get on cholesterol lowering drugs (called statins) for the rest of their lives. Are there alternatives?

The good news is, there are alternatives. The bad news is, they do not work for everybody. Also, a lifestyle change is still required (same as with drugs). However, before getting on statins, it may be a good thing to try natural cholesterol supplements and see if they will help. This could save you a pretty buck, not to mention the side effects associated with statins.

You might want to give fiber supplements a try. Fiber is one of the nutritional supplements that have been used to help lower cholesterol.

In 1999, a team of Harvard Medical School researchers conducted a meta-analysis of nearly 70 clinical trials that examined the effect of soluble fiber on cholesterol levels. High soluble fiber intake was associated with reductions in both LDL and total cholesterol in 60 to 70 percent of the studies they examined. For each gram of soluble fiber that the participants of the various studies added to their daily diet, their LDL levels fell by about 2 points. (The average time frame was seven weeks.) [1]

Can I Just Get Fiber From Food?

Yes, you can get fiber from food. The challenge is getting it adequate amounts of the right type of fiber. You will have to chow down hefty amounts of it to be effective in fighting cholesterol. It is already a challenge to get the recommended amount of fiber in the typical Western diet. This is the reason fiber supplements are often recommended.

The Different Fiber Supplements

  • There are many different fiber supplements available, but all fall into two main categories: Soluble or insoluble.
  • Soluble fiber (also called viscous fiber) can dissolve in water. Partially for this reason, it is the most powerful cholesterol-lowering form of fiber. [2] Soluble fiber foods include oatmeal, oat bran, lentils, nuts, and carrots among others.
  • Insoluble fiber cannot dissolve in water. Its main purpose is to help the body eliminate toxins. It adds bulk to stools. [3] Foods in this category include whole grains, nuts, barley and and brown rice.

And yes, some foods do belong in both groups.

Video: Oat Fiber Helps Reduce Cholesterol

Choosing the Right Type of Fiber Supplement for You

Soluble fiber is better at lowering cholesterol than insoluble fiber. However, that does not mean that taking only a soluble fiber supplement is a good idea. Most people in developed countries do not get enough soluble or insoluble fiber in their diet. Adding both soluble and insoluble fiber to your diet will enable you to achieve a lower cholesterol level than you would be able to get with soluble fiber alone.

Walk into any health food store or browse a health food website for a couple of minutes, and you will be able to find a plethora of different brands of fiber supplements. Fiber supplements are one of the most popular types of dietary supplements.

Literally thousands and thousands of people take fiber supplements on a regular basis, and nutritional supplement manufacturers have responded by producing many different brands.

The Best Brand is the Brand that Works for You

You should try out different brands of fiber supplements to see which ones work best for you. Not everyone responds well to some fiber supplements. If you feel that a given fiber supplement is irritating your body or too unpleasant to swallow, you should switch to a different one.

Working with a doctor is always recommended, especially if you are on other medications, pregnant or breast feeding.

Understanding the Dangers of High Cholesterol

Elevated cholesterol levels have been implicated in a huge number of health problems. Perhaps the most dangerous disease linked to high cholesterol levels is heart disease. This disease is the leading killer of men and women in the developed world.

High cholesterol facilitates the development of heart disease in a number ways, some of them not very well understood. Cholesterol builds up plaques on the artery walls, and these plaques reduce the blood supply to the heart. [4] If enough plaque builds up in the coronary arteries (the arteries that provide blood to the heart), a heart attack can occur.

Lowering your cholesterol will greatly help you to reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

Side Effects of Dietary Fiber

As with most things, fiber supplements do have their negatives, albeit typically less distressing than those from statins. Consuming excessive amounts of fiber can lead to gas, bloating, abdominal cramps, dehydration, deficiencies, and drug interactions. Nutrient absorption can also be affected. [5] [6]

It is more like an excess of anything not always being a good thing. These usually go away as the system adapts to the increase in fiber. Gradual increase of dietary fiber can help avoid or minimize these.

Beyond Fiber

Because of its unique ability to block the absorption of cholesterol in the digestive tract, soluble fiber is can be recommended dietary supplements for lowering cholesterol but not in and of itself. [7] There are other nutritional supplements that can help lower cholesterol naturally. One of the most recommended and prescribed is niacin (vitamin B3) for lowering LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). [8]

Niacin, like soluble fiber, is inexpensive and readily available either online or from a variety of health stores.

Fight Cholesterol Now

Don’t let yourself make the mistake of delaying treating your cholesterol problem. High cholesterol levels are simply too risky health-wise to ignore. Be proactive about controlling your cholesterol, and start eating more healthily.

Frankly, fiber alone is not enough for combating cholesterol as effects are minimal, and most blood cholesterol is not a direct result of what we eat. Yes, taking cholesterol supplements as well as dietary fiber along with a healthy diet and exercise may help to lower cholesterol. As stated earlier, a multi-pronged approach may be necessary.

In some cases, drugs may be the inevitable route (when all else fails). Drugs, fiber and other supplements have sometimes been successfully used together. Working with a doctor in cannot be overemphasized when it comes to lowering cholesterol and/or taking supplements for it.


References:

1. CNN Health: Cholesterol-lowering supplements: What works, what doesn’t

2. How Stuff Works: Foods That Lower Cholesterol

3. University of Maryland Medical Center: Soluble and Insoluble Fiber

4. University of Wyoming: Cholesterol Screening

5. Wikipedia: Fiber Supplements

6. New York Times Health: Fiber

7. Vanderbilt University: Cholesterol Lowering Abilities of Fiber: Fact, Fiction, or Somewhere In-between?

8. Linus Pauling Institute: Niacin

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