What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. Cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as egg yolks, meat, and cheese.
If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can combine with other substances in the blood to form plaque. Plaque sticks to the walls of your arteries. This buildup of plaque is known as atherosclerosis. It can lead to coronary artery disease, where your coronary arteries become narrow or even blocked.
What are HDL, LDL, and VLDL?
HDL, LDL, and VLDL are lipoproteins. They are a combination of fat (lipid) and protein. The lipids need to be attached to the proteins so they can move through the blood.
Different types of lipoproteins have different purposes:
HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. It is sometimes called “good” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. Your liver then removes the cholesterol from your body.
LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. It is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol because a high LDL level leads to the build-up of plaque in your arteries.
VLDL stands for very low-density lipoprotein. Some people also call VLDL a “bad” cholesterol because it too contributes to the build-up of plaque in your arteries. But VLDL and LDL are different; VLDL mainly carries triglycerides and LDL mainly carries cholesterol.
What causes high cholesterol?
The most common cause of high cholesterol is an unhealthy lifestyle. This can include Unhealthy eating habits such as eating lots of bad fats. Particularly, saturated fats found in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, and deep-fried and processed foods. Another variety of trans fat can also be seen in some fried and processed foods. Intake of these types of fats can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Even a lack of physical activity, mainly sitting for long hours without doing many exercises can lower your HDL (good) cholesterol.
Ayurveda, the world’s oldest medical systems having a tradition of 5,000 years, is a holistic healing system that considers each individual as unique, and also takes into account the inherent relationship between the individual and the universe. Its holistic approach to health care is based on a unique understanding of the interrelationship of body, mind and spirit. The aim of Ayurvedic medicine is to integrate and balance these elements to prevent illness and promote wellness through diet, nutrition, herbs, spices, yoga, external therapies, meditation, and daily and seasonal routines.
The pathophysiology of Ayurvedic practice is based on three bio-energetic factors known as DOSHA. They work through the body tissues (DHATU) and make them functional. Health is a state of balance of DOSHA in the body and their healthy interaction with AIR, HEAT and WATER in the surroundings in which an individual lives. Metabolic processes known as AGNI are vital for converting substances in nature into the body’s components. All metabolic diseases are an outcome of improper AGNI, whereas, in the balanced state of DOSHA, nourishment of the body tissues and timely elimination of wastes (MALA) is due to proper AGNI.
An individual’s imbalance is understood by studying the history of illness along with an extensive examination of the patient, including an assessment of the three DOSHAs. When the three DOSHAs are balanced the body experiences health, but if there is a state of imbalance it will result in disease. Therapeutics for any disease is focused on bringing the DOSHAs back to constitutional equilibrium and rebalancing the AGNI of the patient that can provide metabolites that are essential for the health of bodily tissues.
As stated earlier, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of metabolic processes in health promotion as well as disease management. “AGNI”, literally “fire”, is the term used in Ayurveda for defining collectively all the bodily metabolic actions. Ayurveda classifies AGNI into several varieties: JAATARA AGNI – located in the alimentary
tract and performing major metabolic processes, DHATU AGNI – situated at tissue levels and capable of processing metabolic requirements of individual tissues, and BHOOTA AGNI – subtle metabolic processes that happen at the cellular level.
Metabolic processes maintain the normal quantity, quality and function of the DOSHA and DHATU. When in abnormal states due to various causative factors relating to the body and the mind; metabolites that are not assimilated by the body tissues will be produced. The resultant product of such metabolic action is called AAMA.
AAMA is the primary cause of all metabolic disorders in Ayurveda. Once formed it is capable of obstructing the metabolic pathways and causing diseases. Cholesterol is considered as one such product that originates due to metabolic impairment in the alimentary tract and fat tissue (MEDA).
There is no precise term for hyperlipidemia in Ayurvedic classics. Literature shows that scholars have tried to use distinct nomenclature for hyperlipidemia, e.g., Rasagata Sneha Vriddhi (increase in lipids in plasma), Rasa Raktagata Sneha Vriddhi (increase in the lipids in plasma and blood), Medovriddhi (generalized lipid increase), Medoroga or Medodosha (obesity), AAMA Medo Dhatu (abnormally formed adipose tissue). A detailed study of hyperlipidemia reveals its similarity to Asthayi Medo Dhatu Vriddhi (abnormal increase in circulating lipids) with regard to the pathophysiology. This excessively increased circulating lipid is AAMA in nature, resulting in further complications.
The abnormal MEDA (fats) formed due to an aberrant state of metabolism circulates in the channels of the body and gets deposited, producing various symptoms like flabbiness of the body parts such as the abdomen, breasts, etc. It clogs and blocks the flow of lymph and blood, causing lethargy, difficulty in breathing, excess sleep, excessive perspiration, a foul body odour, weakness, lack of stamina and loss of libido. Ultimately the excess of fats gradually involve DOSHA and DHATU in the body and cause maladies such as hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, heart problems, joint disorders and obesity.
It’s important to understand that the liver not only produces cholesterol, but it’s also a part of the digestive system. It’s the place where toxins are screened before they enter the bloodstream. If the liver becomes overloaded with toxins, due to certain mental, physical and environmental factors, its functioning can become impaired. When this happens, it disturbs the 13 types of digestive fires (Agni).
This results in three types of imbalances:
1) Increase in medho dhatu
2) Decrease of medho dhatu
3) medho dhatu mixed with ama.
When medho dhatu mixes with ama, it changes the quality of fat tissue as well as that of cholesterol, making it unhealthy rather than healthy. This mixing of ama with fat tissue is the main cause of imbalanced cholesterol. And it is the liver (yakrit) that is responsible for qualitative digestion, i.e. the quality, or purity, of the fat tissue and hence the quality of the cholesterol that is being produced.
This fall into three categories: mental, physical and environmental. Mental causes include too much mental activity or pressures at work as well as emotional factors such as anger, worries, sorrow, and greed.
Physical causes include eating too much (above digestive capacity) or too little (below the digestive capacity), and eating faulty food (against the digestive capacity). Other physical causes include eating before the complete digestion of the previous meal, eating irregular amounts at irregular times of day, intake of food during the time of indigestion, suppressing natural urges, constipation, and emaciation.
Environmental causes include eating the wrong foods for the climate or season, as well as eating foods polluted with toxins.
There are three types of toxins. One, called ama in Ayurveda, is the sticky, foul-smelling waste product of improper digestion. Ama settles first in the digestive tract and, if it continues to accumulate, mixes with the rasa (nutritive fluid) and travels throughout the body, settling in weak areas. Ama is caused by dull, slow digestion or by eating foods that are too heavy and difficult to digest, such as packaged, frozen, canned, fried, fatty, or leftover foods.
The second type of toxin is called amavisha, and it is a more reactive, dangerous type of ama. Amavisha is created when ama is present for a very long time and is not flushed from the system. If amavisha mixes with the fat tissue, and at the same time one continues to engage in an unhealthy lifestyle or diets such as lack of exercise, sleeping during the day, eating excessive amounts of fatty foods, indulging in alcoholic drinks etc thereby causing imbalance and disease in the lipid tissues.
For instance, imbalanced medho dhatu can distort the cardiovascular veins, called as raktavahi srotas in Ayurveda. If amavisha has mixed with the blood and fat tissue, it can distort and damage the srotas (channels that carry fluids of various sorts throughout the body), narrowing the veins as in atherosclerosis.
So ama can cause problems that are associated with impure lipid tissue thereby increasing the cholesterol level, even though it’s not the cholesterol itself that causes these problems.
Toxins can also enter the body from the environment, with exposure to lead and other heavy metals, or water or air pollution which can be termed to be as garvisha in Ayurveda. Intake of food items which are cultivated from chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and food that is prepared with chemicals, additives, and preservatives, can also add to the toxic overload of the liver and result in disturbance of lipid metabolism.
To understand this, we need to look at how the seven tissues (dhatus) in the body are formed. All of the tissues are formed in a sequence of metabolic transformations, and the health and strength of each type of tissue are based on that of a previously formed one. When you eat food, it is converted into rasa (nutritive fluid) and from there it is transformed into rakta (blood plasma), and in a sequence converts to the mamsa (muscle), meda (fat), asthi (bone), majja (bone marrow), and finally, shukra (reproductive fluid).
If ama has accumulated in the nutritive fluid, blood plasma or muscle tissue, which are all raw material for forming fat tissue, then that ama will also be present in the fat tissue. This is one of the major reason for ama in the fat tissue: ama accumulating in the rasa, rakta or mamsa tissues.
Another major reason is eating unhealthy types of fat, which do not nourish the body but rather create ama. This includes saturated fats found in meat, butter and vegetable oils. A worse type of fat that is virtually indigestible is Trans fats, or hydrogenated vegetable oils, that are found in almost all packaged, processed and fast foods. Another type of unhealthy fat is rancid or overheated fats.
I think it’s obvious why you shouldn’t eat fats that are spoiled. But overheating fats is just as bad. Most polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, sesame) are processed with chemicals or heat, and their nutritional value is destroyed. They end up creating free radicals, contributing to oxidized fats, or cholesterol, in the body. This can happen even if you use coldpressed oils for frying or cooking foods.
A third reason is just eating too much fat overall, even if it’s the good kind of fat. While all of these factors can cause high cholesterol, the most dangerous combination is eating large quantities of unhealthy fat, which can happen easily if you eat fast foods or processed, packaged foods on a daily basis.
Ayurvedic Diet Tips to Regulate Cholesterol Levels
Here are some important diet tips and herbal remedies to regulate cholesterol
• Stick to a kapha-pacifying diet. Avoid fatty food, cheese, processed foods, high-fat milk or yogurt. Minimise the consumption of sweets and cold foods and drinks.
• Garlic is said to be the most effective in preventing high cholesterol. Mix together one clove of fresh garlic chopped finely, half teaspoon grated ginger root and half teaspoon lime juice; eat this mixture before each meal you take through the day.
• Drink a tea made of one teaspoon cinnamon and one-fourth teaspoon of the herbal mixture trikatu. Steep it for 10 minutes in a cupful of water; add one teaspoon honey and drink. Take it twice a day.
• Taking half teaspoon trikatu with one teaspoon honey, two to three times a day is good for burning ama (digestive fire) and excess kapha, further helps to regulate cholesterol.
• Another herb that has been known to effectively manage cholesterol levels in the body is chitrakadi vati.
• Drink one cup of hot water mixed with honey. This will help to ‘scrape’ off the fat from your system and reduce cholesterol levels. You could also add one teaspoon of lime juice or 10 drops of apple cider vinegar to make the drink more effective.
• Include more millets, quinoa, oatmeal, wheat, apples, grapefruit, and almonds to reduce cholesterol.
• Make sure you engage in physical activities to regulate cholesterol.
• Don’t forget to eat a healthy diet and lead a right lifestyle to ensure healthy cholesterol levels.