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Dr Russ Blog - Acupuncture for lowering cholesterol?
Acupuncture for lowering cholesterol?
Created on 5/20/2008

J finds herself in a circumstance that is not uncommon - she has high cholesterol, but is unable to take the first line conventional medication used to help lower cholesterol levels - statins. For most of us statins are both effective and well-tolerated, but some people develop problems like muscle aches or even liver problems with them. In this instance other options need to be considered.

Always talk with your doctor first before begining any regimen to help optimize your health and wellbeing, even if your read it here. Remember, I offer very general information that might be of help, but only your doctor knows your unique medical history. Thus, only she or he knows what might be safe for you, as well as effective. A healing partnership with our personal doctor is extremely important to keeping us well.

Acupuncture is but one aspect of the rich healthcare system that is Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM. Diet, medicinal herbs, body work, and meditation along with acupuncture might all have a place in a TCM practitioner's therapeutic recommendations. I was first attracted to TCM because it approaches the human body and health in a beautiful, almost poetic, way. As it is a complete system of healthcare unto itself, TCM can often offer health benefits where conventional Western medicine is limited. In this country, TCM is typically used as a complement to conventional medical care.

While the exact mechanism by which acupuncture works has yet to be determined, there's no debating that it does work for certain ailments. Unfortunately, there is not enough information yet available to support using acupuncture to lower cholesterol levels (most of the research has been done on animals, not humans). I would not rely on acupuncture primarily to control your cholesterol. 

The first step in a program to lower cholesterol is often to review one's dietary habits. High intake of saturated fat, like meat and some dairy products, can contribute to high cholesterol levels, so cutting back somewhat on these foods can be of help. In addition, there are some foods that appear to actively help lower cholesterol to some degree, or at least help change the way cholesterol is handled in the body. These foods include garlic, onions, green tea, red chili peppers, and perhaps soy products. Meeting with a nutritionist is a good starting point on the path to lowering one's cholesterol. Of course, anytime diet is discussed, exercise needs to be considered, too. Staying physically active can be beneficial to our health in many ways, including its beneficial effect on cholesterol.

If diet and exercise are not doing the trick, there are a few supplements that can be of help. Niacin, available as both a prescription aid and an over-the-counter remedy, can help lower "bad" (LDL) cholesterol, while raising "good" (HDL) cholesterol. Using the prescription form of the agent may help lessen the risk for side effects, which can be significant. Your doctor can write a prescription for niacin for you if deemed appropriate and safe. One agent to discuss with your doctor might be red rice yeast (Monascus purpureus), a remedy that naturally contains a small amount of statin in it. The same concerns regarding side effects apply as with statin drugs, but the side effects seem to be less common, perhaps because the dose is relatively small with red rice yeast. Regardless, this is a decision to be made jointly with your doctor, especially with your history of being unable to take statins.

I recommend that almost anyone using a statin drug or statin-like agent like red rice yeast also consider taking the vitamin-like substance Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10. Statin agents do a great job of lowering cholesterol, but they also lower levels of CoQ10, and CoQ10 may be very important to our health, especially as regards the heart and central nervous system. CoQ10 may interfere with some medications - another reason to speak with your doctor first!

And remember, when speaking with your doctor, she or he has a number of other prescription aids at their disposal. Any one of the fibrates, resins, or cholesterol absorption inhibitors might be a good option for you. Ask your doctor for their opinion, and visit the web site of the American Heart Association to learn more about cholesterol and cholesterol lowering drugs.

Be well.
Dr. Russ

** Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. **



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