Plant Power: Natural Help for High Cholesterol

Artichoke leaf extracts may lower cholesterol, according to a new study published in Phytomedicine. This study confirms prior research demonstrating that certain plant extracts have cholesterol-lowering, antioxidant, and other health-promoting properties.

High total cholesterol is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, a serious condition that can lead to heart attacks and stroke. The authors report, “On a global level, the World Health Report estimates that about 8% of all disease burden in developed countries is caused by raised cholesterol levels.” Lifestyle changes such as healthy eating, exercise, and weight loss can help lower cholesterol.

When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, cholesterol-lowering medication may be necessary, especially when there is a need to lower a person’s cholesterol quickly and aggressively (for example, if a person also has severe diabetes, another risk factor for cardiovascular disease).

In this study, 131 adults with mildly to moderately high total cholesterol were randomly assigned to receive 1,280 mg of artichoke leaf extract (Cynara scolymus) or placebo capsules for 12 weeks, while continuing their usual medications, supplements, and diet.

Total cholesterol decreased in the artichoke extract group by more than 4% and increased in the placebo group by nearly 2%. There was no difference between the two groups in their blood levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, or triglycerides. The authors concluded that artichoke leaf extract has a modest but favorable impact on lowering total cholesterol.

Healthy habits lower cardiovascular disease risk

Here are some tips to help lower your risk for developing cardiovascular disease:

• Keep cholesterol levels healthy—If you don’t know your cholesterol level, see a doctor.

• Follow a healthy diet—People who stick with a low-fat diet that is also low in refined sugar and starches and rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared with people who eat less of these foods and more fat and sugar.

• Exercise regularly—Experts recommend moderate physical activity most days of the week along with three days of more vigorous activity and strength training two to three times a week.

• Lower your stress—People who are highly stressed are more likely to have a heart attack compared with people who have learned to take the trials and tribulations of life in stride. If you are chronically stressed, learn techniques to help you relax.

(Phytomedicine 2008;15:668–75)

Jane Hart, MD

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