If you are like many of my male patients, you are probably concerned about two common health problems; high cholesterol and prostate problems. Recent research findings now show that the two conditions are linked to each other in the following way.
Men who keep their cholesterol at a healthy level get an added bonus of warding off prostate disease. In November 2009, the results of two studies on the relationship between cholesterol and prostate disease were released by the American Association for Cancer Research. The studies revealed that men with cholesterol levels below 200 had less than half the risk of developing aggressive prostate tumors than men with levels 240 and over. Also, those men with high HDL or "good cholesterol" levels were 11% less likely to develop any type of prostate cancer than men with low HDL levels. That's great news for men and creates a healthy incentive to keep their cholesterol at optimal range.
Lower Cholesterol, Higher HDL, Healthier Prostate
Allow me to share a few more statistics with you about men and their cholesterol levels. Men, in general, have higher cholesterol levels than women. Yet in at least one study, it was found that men responded more favorably to a lower saturated fat diet than women in lowering cholesterol. Hispanic males have the highest cholesterol rates of all male populations with 51.1% at levels over 200 and 16% over 240. They are followed by white males at 45.0 and 15.3%, and black males at 40.2 and 10.9%. However, regardless of ethnicity, your diet has a significant effect on your cholesterol level and the old adage, you are what you eat, certainly rings true here. Men today, with their busy lifestyles, tend to rely on fast and/or processed foods which tend to be high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Also, they may also be neglecting a regular exercise routine and carrying more weight than is healthy.
So what's the connection between cholesterol and prostate health? High saturated fat intake increases cholesterol. Cholesterol is one of the major building blocks of testosterone. So, the higher your cholesterol levels, the higher your testosterone levels. Higher testosterone values are associated with higher PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels and prostate cancer. Particularly aggressive prostate cancers are testosterone-driven. Urologists typically treat these types of prostate cancers by doing a testosterone blockade either chemically with pills, or surgically by removing the testicles. However, the results of these latest studies have proven that men can prevent all types of prostate cancer if they keep their total cholesterol levels below 200 and their HDL levels high.
Naturally Lower Cholesterol Without Statins
Statins, drugs that lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, are the most frequently prescribed medications in the United States and Europe. However, prescription drugs should be the last resort in attempting to lower cholesterol levels. In addition, statins have particular side effects for men that actually can increase their risk of prostate cancer (in obese men) and cardiomyopathy.
There are many things you can do to lower your cholesterol levels naturally and avoid the side effects associated with taking prescription statins. These simple changes to your lifestyle and diet habits can help you lower your total cholesterol, lower your LDL and raise your HDL:
- Limit saturated fats to 7% total calories, or about 14 grams for a 2,000 calorie diet.
- Limit cholesterol intake to 200 mg daily. You have to start reading labels.
- Eat a higher plant-based diet. 6-10 servings of vegetables and fruits per day is considered optimal. Prepare them without saturated fat or oils. Use olive oil, a monounsaturated fat.
- Cut down red meat to 1-2 times per week, not more than 6 oz, playing card size serving.
- Substitute cooked beans, lentils, chick peas, for meat at lunch or dinner.
- Add more fiber to your diet to reach the recommended 15-25 grams per day. Oatmeal for breakfast, whole grain bagel, fruit, bowl of lentil or bean soup for lunch, sweet potato, salad, vegetable for dinner. Fiber helps sweep saturated fats and cholesterol out of your digestive tract before they enter your bloodstream.
- Add plant stanols and sterols, 2 grams, per day to your diet. Found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds, and are even artificially added to other grocery items. These compounds compete with cholesterol and decrease the amount of cholesterol that you absorb.
- If overweight, decrease your weight by 5%. If you weigh 200 lbs, this is a 10 lb loss.
- Exercise doing at least 30 minutes per day of aerobic exercise.
- Best fast food place: Subway, all fresh meats and vegetables, whole grain bread contains plant sterols and fiber which lower cholesterol food choices. Order the turkey or tuna varieties.
Supplements That Lower Cholesterol
There are many alternative products including vitamins and plant based supplements that can be tried to lower cholesterol before you resort to statins. These alternative products have the benefit of not having any of the side effects of prescription cholesterol lowering medications. Some of these agents are:
- Niacin, or Vitamin B3, reduces fatty substances in the blood.
- Guggulipid, or guggul, used for years in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Studies show guggul to lower cholesterol up to 30% in 3 months and lowers triglycerides by 22-30%.
- Vitamin E - inhibits processes related to atherosclerosis.
- Green tea - contains catechins that absorb saturated fats.
Today's busy men have less and less time to devote to their personal health care. However, achieving good cholesterol and prostate health just got a whole lot easier. If you can commit to one of the suggestions listed here per month, and perhaps add some natural cholesterol lowering supplements to your routine, in a few months you could have reduced your cholesterol levels by 20-30%! And by the time you return to your urologist for a check up, you'll find that watching your cholesterol has paid off in rewarding you with a low PSA and a healthy prostate.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
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