Tag Archives: cholesterol

  • Coconut: Packed with Healthy Benefits

    What is this nut that’s so hard to crack? Coconut is cropping up everywhere these days—coconut water, coconut flour, shredded coconut, coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut cream. When I was a young girl we’d shake them to check for water inside (an indication of a good coconut, according to my mom). The next task was actually getting the hairy orb open so we could drink the water and carefully pry the meat out.

    I’ve always thought of coconuts as a special treat, but in the islands of the South Pacific, coconuts have long been a staple food item. While doing research on the benefits of this mysterious “nut,” I found that the people of Polynesia have been consuming coconuts for centuries, and their population is amazingly healthy—free of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

    Now it’s true that coconut contains saturated fat, and it’s fair to say that most people are concerned about consuming too much saturated fat for fear of increasing their cholesterol and triglyceride (fats) numbers, along with the potential for heart disease.

    But coconut doesn’t contain just any saturated fat—it contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and medium-chain lauric, capric and caprylic fatty acids, which are associated with many health benefits. In fact, medium-chain fatty acids (MFCAs) have long been used in hospitals to treat critically ill patients who have malabsorption and digestive problems, as well as in premature infants (MCFAs provide many of the same nutrients as human breast milk). In fact, coconut water is still a primary ingredient in infant formulas.

    Let’s look at some of the other benefits of coconut.

    Metabolism: A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that medium-chain fatty acids were three times more effective at raising metabolism than long-chain fatty acids. This is for two reasons: First, MCFAs do not circulate into the bloodstream. Instead, they are sent directly to the liver, where they are immediately converted into energy. Second, they don’t raise blood sugar. And it has been reported that coconut oil can actually help to control sugar cravings.

    Candida: The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil have been shown to destroy Candida, a condition of yeast overgrowth in the body that triggers symptoms of weight gain, carbohydrate cravings and fatigue. Additionally, coconut oil slows the digestion of food, which helps you feel more satiated after a meal. The added bonus is that coconut oil has no carbohydrates or sugar—another reason coconut oil can help with weight loss and is a good alternative for diabetics.

    Digestion: The saturated fats present in coconut oil have anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and help in dealing with bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc., that can cause digestive problems. MCFA molecules are smaller, and require less energy and fewer enzymes to break down for digestion, which reduces strain on the pancreas and digestive system. Coconut oil also helps in the absorption of other nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins, minerals and amino acids, which can be beneficial for people who suffer from gallbladder disease, pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease and diabetes.

    Cholesterol: Coconut oil contains about 50% lauric acid, which has been shown to help increase HDL (healthy cholesterol) and does not lead to increased levels of LDL (unhealthy cholesterol). As such, the saturated fats found in coconut oil are clearly not the same as those found in animal fat—the difference is in the length of the fatty acids.

    5 easy ways to make coconut part of your healthy lifestyle

    If you’re thinking about incorporating some of this “healthy” saturated fat into your lifestyle, here are some ideas to make it quick and easy.

    Replace other cooking oils with coconut oil. I would start out by using half of the amount that you would normally use. If you don’t care for the flavor or smell of coconut, look for oil that says it’s odorless and tasteless. It’s great for cooking vegetables, eggs, meats and fish—even baking.

    Add a tablespoon to hot cereal
    along with some raw walnuts or almonds, a drizzle of agave nectar and some fresh berries for a heart-healthy breakfast.

    Coconut oil is a fantastic moisturizer and hair conditioner. Keep a jar of coconut oil in the bathroom and use it as a moisturizer after a warm bath or shower. It’s also great on dry heels and elbows. If you suffer from dandruff, apply a small amount to your scalp, massage it in and leave on for about 15 minutes (or even overnight), then wash your hair as you normally would.

    Try using coconut in smoothies, soups, dressings, cakes, cookies, sauces, cereals or pancakes. Coconut products are relatively easy to find—look for coconut water or milk, coconut flour, shredded or flaked coconut, coconut cream or butter, and coconut sugar.

    Use it as a deodorant. OK, you might think this one is a stretch, but consider the fact that coconut oil is anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. If you’ve been searching for a healthy alternative to conventional deodorant, give coconut oil a try. I’ve been applying odorless coconut oil as a deodorant for about four months and so far, knock on wood, no complaints from my co-workers at Pharmaca.

    Pharmaca carries several types of coconut oil from Jarrow Formulas and Nature’s Way, as well as a variety of coconut waters, both plain and flavored.

    Sharon Wegner is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Nutritional Consultant and member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Sharon teaches her clients how to make healthier food and lifestyle choices by creating simple and sustainable changes. She shares her passion for cooking with her clients by teaching them how to make fresh and delicious REAL food. You can find out more about her work at her Essentials for Healthy Living blog.

  • Ask the MD: Men's Heart Health

    By Dr. Brad Jacobs, MD, Chair of Pharmaca's Integrative Health Advisory Board

    Heart disease and related health problems, such as cerebro-vascular accidents (e.g. strokes), comprise the leading cause of death in the United States. I recommend using the Reynolds Risk Score calculator to calculate your risk for developing a heart attack or stroke over the next 10 years.

    So how should men think about reducing their risk for heart disease or strokes? First, learn the facts. The major risk factors for heart disease and stroke include age (<55 years in men and <65 years in women), family history (first degree relatives experiencing a heart attack), use of tobacco, elevated blood pressure, poor cholesterol profile (LDL>130, HDL <40), diabetes and an elevated c-reactive protein lab test.

    Second, realize that lifestyle changes are the most potent, safest and cheapest “medicine” available—far more potent than any single prescription drug or natural remedy available.

    Third, if you are at least 40 years of age, talk to your physician about the possibility of taking a baby aspirin daily (81 mg, enteric coated). Research has shown that low doses of aspirin lower heart disease risk and lower cancer rates by 33 percent.

    Risk factors you can influence  

    Smoking tobacco triples your risk of heart disease and stroke—quit while you’re ahead!  More smokers die from heart disease than lung cancer, and 30 percent of all heart disease deaths are caused by cigarette smoke. After two years of not smoking tobacco, your risk for heart disease returns to the same risk as someone who never smoked cigarettes.

    High blood pressure: A healthy blood pressure is 120 mmHg/80 mmHg.  Check the American Heart Association’s website for an easy-to-use calculator to determine your risks.

    Fortunately there are several things you can do to lower high blood pressure. Stopping smoking, decreasing salt and alcohol consumption, managing your stress through mind-body practices such as yoga and meditation, exercise and reducing your weight can all reduce your blood pressure. (Read more about my weight management tips here).

    As for supplements, magnesium and calcium are thought to have modest blood pressure-lowering effects, and CoQ10 is thought to lower systolic blood pressure.

    Cholesterol: Make sure you have both your HDL and LDL tested, since total cholesterol is less relevant. The LDL should be as low as possible, and the “good stuff,” HDL, as high as possible. The general guidelines are to aim for higher than 45 for HDL, and below 130 for LDL—unless you have diabetes or a history of heart disease, in which case an LDL below 100 is recommended.

    To raise your HDL, daily exercise (even 20 minutes daily has large health benefits!), one glass of alcohol per day and supplementary niacin has been shown to increase levels.

    Modifying your diet has been shown to dramatically lower LDL levels. I recommend limiting saturated fat intake to less than 5-10 percent total calories, increasing fiber and whole grains to 25 grams or more daily, and increasing low glycemic-load fruits and deeply pigmented vegetables to 5-7 servings daily.

    In addition, reconfigure your plate of food so that two-thirds of the plate is filled with vegetables, and the remainder split between non-animal or lean animal protein and whole grain carbohydrates. When you do that, it can dramatically change your overall heart health and cholesterol. (For more information on healthy eating, I recommend the Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Pyramid by Dr. Willett.)

    I also recommend the following supplements for improving cholesterol:
    ·     Niacin: Take in small doses several times per day to help increase your HDL levels.
    ·     Garlic: Research has linked it to modest lowering of cholesterol, and it can be beneficial for overall health.
    ·     Omega-3s: Strong evidence shows that these reduce your triglycerides, and reduce your risk of dying during a heart attack.
    ·     Plant sterols can be quite effective in lowering LDL levels, especially beta-sitosterols. You can find them in spreads such as Benacol or in supplements like Natural Factors’ Cholesterol Formula.

    Diabetes: Maintaining normalized blood sugars levels is paramount for those with diabetes. If you are at risk for developing diabetes, then the lifestyle program we discussed above should become an essential part of your daily life.

    C-reactive protein levels: This lab test is a marker of your overall inflammatory state. We previously thought aspirin was good for heart disease because it thinned the blood, but current research has found its anti-inflammatory effects are likely the true cause (and help explain why it reduces cancer rates as well). For similar reasons, good oral hygiene reduces chronic inflammation and may thereby lower heart disease rates.

    The bottom line? Reduce heart disease and stroke risk with simple steps like flossing your teeth, taking a baby aspirin, exercising and drinking alcohol in modest amounts, and eating modest amounts of food, mostly plants.

    For more advice about maintain good cardiovascular health, speak with a Pharmaca practitioner today.

  • Natural Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol

    Need to lower your cholesterol? Here, Dr. Brad Jacobs talks about natural ways to maintain healthy cholesterol levels through diet, exercise and supplementation.

    This video is part of a series of educational videos we'll be posting from members of our Integrative Health Advisory Board.

  • Ask a Practitioner: How can I naturally lower my cholesterol?

    We get questions nearly every day via Ask a Practitioner from people with a variety of health concerns. Our practitioners take turns answering these questions, offering advice based on their experience and expertise. Every now and then we post some of these questions with the hopes that our practitioners' advice can help answer some of your health questions.

    Q. I've been taking Lipitor to lower my cholesterol, but I'm worried about the side effects. What are some natural options to cholesterol control?

    A. There are many natural solutions to high cholesterol. With that being said, you should always consult with your doctor before going off a medication so they can be informed and lower your doses appropriately. If you were to safely go off Lipitor, there are many dietary and supplement recommendations that you can try.

    The first recommendation I always start with is fiber, since increasing your dose of daily fiber is essential to good lipid health. Another dietary recommendations is including one serving of soy per day in your diet. Garlic also has very beneficial effects for cholesterol.

    Some common supplements that can be beneficial are Red Yeast Rice, B vitamins, policosanols, artichoke and plant sterols. We sell a product at Pharmaca called Meta-sitosterol 2.0 by Metagenics, which contains only the plant sterols in high doses. Another one of my favorites is Cho-Less by Natura. There are many formulas of herbs and nutrients that combine all of these ingredients together that can be very effective.

    After you consult with your physician, stop by one of our locations and a practitioner can help you select a few products that would be best for you.
    -Shannon Wood, Naturopath, San Francisco

    The information provided here is intended for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  • The (healthy) glory of chocolate

    We just stumbled on this little nugget by John Robbins over at the Huffington Post—we've never seen someone lay out the true health benefits of chocolate quite so well. It turns out it's not just full of antioxidants, it's also great for your heart, your mood, etc. As Robbins says, "There is in fact a growing body of credible scientific evidence that chocolate contains a host of heart-healthy and mood-enhancing phytochemicals, with benefits to both body and mind."

    He goes on to talk about how it's packed with polyphenols that inhibit atherosclerosis, how it helps lower blood pressure, elevate moods by releasing pleasurable endorphins and boosts serotonin levels in the brain. Sounds like a superfood to us! (And it's good to know that the bad rap that chocolate has gotten over the years is mostly due to the additives we put in it--butterfat and sugar, namely--that can boost fat and high cholesterol.)

    Robbins concludes by talking about how much chocolate we really need to reap all those benefits: "According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adding only half an ounce of dark chocolate to an average American diet is enough to increase total antioxidant capacity 4 percent, and lessen oxidation of LDL cholesterol."

    The perfect afternoon snack. Grab one of Pharmaca's fair-trade or organic dark chocolates and munch happy (and healthy)!

5 Item(s)