We need cholesterol to build healthy cells and make hormones.
But, what about when it gets too high?
Here, I’ll discuss ways to balance high cholesterol with Ayurveda, clarify a few myths, and provide you with dietary and lifestyle recommendations to lower it.
The western perspective
Cholesterol is a vital substance made in the liver that fundamentally performs the following functions:
- Supports the generation of sex hormones.
- Aids in the production of bile in the liver.
- It is an important building block for bodily tissues.
It is, however, classified as “good” or “bad” in allopathic medicine.
Two types of lipoproteins transport cholesterol from the liver into the bloodstream:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which can clog blood vessels and artery walls with plaque ⇰ The bad guy.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), which helps control LDL levels by carrying it back to the liver to be flushed from the body ⇰ The good cholesterol.
When too much of the bad cholesterol builds up, the inside of the vessels narrow, restricting blood flow and affecting our heart health.
Some conventional suggestions we hear from doctors to improve this condition include:
- Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Eliminating trans fats.
- Adding whey protein to our diets (a big NO from an Ayurvedic stance, as it hinders digestion leading to more plaque accumulation).
- Drugs (i.e., cholesterol absorption inhibitors and statins). Unfortunately, these might also provoke negative side effects such as muscle pain and damage, liver damage, type 2 diabetes, and neurological harm.
Ayurvedic approach to balancing high cholesterol levels
Although Ayurveda does not refer to cholesterol explicitly, it mentions meda dhatu or fat tissue.
Meda dhatu is a needed component in the body that requires an optimal Agni or digestive fire and healthy liver to be beneficial.
When we eat trans fats, hydrogenated vegetable oils, processed sugar, and fast foods regularly, this is what happens:
✔︎ Inevitably, we tend to produce ama or toxic waste (plaque).
Ama creates a hospitable environment for diseases, including high cholesterol. The toxic waste of digestion is first accumulated in the nutritive fluid and plasma. Then it circulates around the body and embeds itself in vulnerable areas.
If the meda dhatu is susceptible, ama will stay there, creating constricted blood channels, impeding the flow of oxigen-rich blood, leading to blood clots, and increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
✔︎ The liver gets overloaded with toxins. This diminishes its capacity to make bile, carry away waste, and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion.
Myths and facts
All cholesterol is bad
From a conventional and Ayurvedic standpoint, this statement is false. We need healthy cholesterol — without plaque or ama — to support our systems.
Eating animal foods does not affect my cholesterol levels
False. Foods like meats, butter, and cheese have saturated fats which can increase your cholesterol. They are also harder to digest — at least for some of us — and can easily give rise to ama.
It’s okay to eat sugar as long as I don’t consume bad fats
False. White sugars, corn syrup, and other forms of refined sugar don’t provide you with high-quality nourishment. Further, they bring forth ama, congestion, and blood stagnation.
A low-fat diet is best to manage high cholesterol levels
While it is true that a Kapha-pacifying diet is appropriate for the management of high cholesterol, typically we see elevated levels of it when we are in our Vata stage of life.
Disease manifestation is a gradual process.
We might have eaten a poor diet throughout our twenties and thirties only to discover in our forties, fifties, or sixties that we have high cholesterol.
As we age, we become more Vata aggravated.
This means that healthy fats are still necessary to lubricate and keep unctuous the channels, brain, and tissues of the body.
At this point, the strategic addition of fats to your diet, plus working in collaboration with an Ayurveda consultant, can render the best results.
Follow a Kapha nutritional regimen
An anti-kapha diet that avoids fatty meats, butter, cheese, eggs, and sugar is ideal. Make sure that cereals like quinoa and barley are consumed regularly, and eat steamed vegetables cooked with hot and peppery spices.
Use healthy oils
Most oils aggravate Kapha dosha since they share similar attributes. However, add little amounts of olive oil, ghee, mustard oil, or sunflower oil to your meals. Food should feel warm, light, and slightly dry.
The bitter taste (bitter melon, kale, dandelion green, sesame seeds, turmeric) is deeply cleansing and purifying. It helps scrape ama and fat from the tissues and stimulates a healthy appetite.
Consider Intermittent Fasting
This eating pattern can promote weight loss, improve blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and your lipid profile by raising the suboptimal HDL (good cholesterol).
Nibbling during the day disrupts the digestive process, specially if the previous meal has not been entirely assimilated, causing ama. Instead, eat only two or three main, wholesome, anti-Kapha meals.
This is a wonderful strategy to support a balanced cholesterol as sun salutations can stimulate the abdominal muscles and digestive system, the core principle of health.
Follow the Kapha movement guidelines to detox your body, increase the high-density lipoprotein HDL cholesterol, and stimulate the circulation and release of LDL.
Try dry brushing
It helps regulate the lymphatic system, promote invigoration of the whole body, and improve circulation which helps cells renew and detox.