Ask about one health related thing which bothers most people across the world, the answer most likely will be high cholesterol.
Cholesterol makes up the outer lining of cells and this fatty substance is vital for humans and animals.
Our body gets it through production in liver and dietary intake. Key dietary sources of cholesterol are – poultry, meat, dairy products and fish.
Do not be surprised when I say that our body needs cholesterol for several purposes such as to include it as a component in the cell membranes.
However, if a high amount of cholesterol (more than required by the body) is present in the system; it builds up in the walls of the blood vessels.
Cholesterol build up in the blood vessels, particularly the major arteries of the body, puts the heart at a risk of attack and arrest. This problem is one of the leading causes of death in the United States .
So why people worry so much about it? high cholesterol levels can cause various health problems like atherosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases, peripheral heart disease, strokes and so on.
There are two types of cholesterols found in the body – low density lipoprotein or – LDL -‘bad’ cholesterol and high density lipoprotein or HDL – ‘good’ – cholesterol.
Those with higher levels of LDL cholesterol run the risk of contracting coronary heart disease.
HDL cholesterol on the other hand can prevent atherosclerosis. Healthy diet, exercise, body weight, gender, diabetes, age are some factors that can affect both cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol levels below 200 are normal and between 200-239 borderline high. A combination of diet and drugs are used to treat high cholesterol.
How Turmeric Can Help in High Cholesterol
High cholesterol or hypercholesterolemia is a disorder in which cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels and obstructs blood flow.
This leads to high blood pressure and cardiac problems such as heart attack.
The major reasons for hypercholesterolemia in today’s world are obesity, consuming high fat food, diabetes and having a family history of high cholesterol.
This disorder is reported to affect a large number of people all across the world and is one of the leading causes of death as well.
Cholesterol is reduced in the body by managing weight and diet.
Regular exercise, lesser consumption of fatty foods, more consumption of fruits and vegetables help in ameliorating the symptoms of hypercholesterolemia.
However, in most cases, medications also known as anti hypertensive and anti cholesterol drugs are also required, especially in chronic cases.
There are several problems associated with medications though and people are now switching towards newer and less toxic therapies to control and reduce cholesterol levels in the body.
Several natural herbs, supplements and food products are known to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and reduce cholesterol in mild hypercholesterolemia. These therapies, if opted for, help in preventing the disorder but are less helpful in chronic cases of this disease .
One of the options of important herbal remedies, which is emerging as an important therapy for cholesterol management, prevention and reduction in mild as well as chronic cases is turmeric.
The active ingredient in turmeric, known as curcumin, helps in preventing cholesterol increase in the body and also helps reduce its levels quickly and efficiently in the patients with serious hypercholesterolemia.
It is clear now that excess cholesterol is a BIG problem that everyone wants to find out natural ways to control it. I am summarizing various ways turmeric can help in this case.
1. Turmeric prevents oxidation of cholesterol
In simple terms, cholesterol in the body, whether extra or not in terms of quantities, is needed to be transported to the tissues where it is required.
Since it doesn’t dissolve in blood, it needs a vehicle for transportation. The vehicle is known as lipoprotein.
There are two types of lipoproteins – High density (HDL and low density (LDL) and the cholesterol associated with LDL, circulating in the blood is the reason for all the problems.
In our body, LDL is the bad one because it keeps on circulating in the blood along with cholesterol whereas HDL brings the cholesterol back to liver where it can be metabolized.
Circulating LDL cholesterol reacts with oxygen dissolved in the blood and gets oxidized.
Oxidized LDL cholesterol in high levels in the blood builds up as plaques in the blood vessels and causes atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of arteries) which leads to heart diseases.
Thus, having high amounts of cholesterol increases the amounts of LDL cholesterol as this is the major cholesterol type found as compared to HDL and causes hypercholesterolemia.
It is thus important to prevent the bad cholesterol build up and its oxidation in the blood.
In an experiment, controlled dosing of turmeric was used to feed hypercholesterolemic rabbits and the effects on LDL oxidation was analysed. It was found that turmeric extracts efficiently and quickly reduced the levels of cholesterol in the blood along with the incidences of atherosclerosis with time.
The reason for these therapeutic effects, when analysed, was found to be the preventive action of turmeric on the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
It was proven that turmeric reduces both the oxidation and circulation of oxidized levels of LDL cholesterol which leads to reduction in the occurrence or treatment of already present atherosclerosis in the subjects.
What it means: turmeric reduces the amounts of bad cholesterol circulating in the blood and prevents/treats atherosclerosis successfully that ultimately protects the patient from heart diseases resulting from high cholesterol.
2. Curcumin increases the metabolism of cholesterol in the liver
The major problem caused by cholesterol is due to its nature of associating with LDL and circulating in the blood freely.
This case is usually true for the cases in which the amount of cholesterol in the body is higher than that required or if the liver is unable to metabolize it efficiently.
Liver has certain lipoprotein and cholesterol receptors that recognize the presence of free cholesterol and LDL and take it up for processing and metabolize it.
This reduces the level of free cholesterol and thus the risk of hypercholesterolemia.
In most cases, when the amount of cholesterol in the body gets high, liver is unable to take up excess of it because of the lack of extra receptors.
In other cases, such as diabetes and alcoholism, the cells of the liver also get damaged which further decrease the number of available cholesterol receptors and thus its uptake.
Hence, it is important to increase the metabolism of the liver by increasing the reception of cholesterol so that it doesn’t circulate freely along with LDL and damage the arteries causing other problems.
Research has revealed that curcumin from turmeric is an extremely efficient agent in increasing cholesterol uptake by the liver cells.
Several independent studies have shown that curcumin increases the expression of cholesterol and lipoprotein receptors on the liver cells.
In a laboratory study, 18 rabbits were given a 7 week diet to induce atherosclerosis. The rabbits were then divided into groups – 2 groups were given turmeric extract of 1.66mg/kg or 3.2mg/kg body weight. The 3rd was the control group.
Cholesterol levels were then checked and it was found that the group with lower curcumin demonstrated better LDL cholesterol vulnerability to lipid peroxidation. The control group had higher total blood cholesterol than the two curcumin groups.
Lower curcumin dosage had lower triglycerides, phospholipids and lower cholesterol levels. The conclusion was that curcumin extract can be used effectively to manage cholesterol buildup and diseases like atherosclerosis.
This leads to increased reception and up take of cholesterol which ultimately helps in management of hypercholesterolemia. In other words, curcumin shows strong hypocholesterolemic effects in the body by increasing cholesterol metabolism.
What it means: curcumin from turmeric helps in metabolization of extra freely circulating cholesterol in the body by increasing the uptake of this fat in the liver cells so that they it does not circulate in the blood causing hypercholesterolemia and other associated disorders.
3. Turmeric helps suppress accumulation of cholesterol in the blood cells
The freely circulating cholesterol in the blood not just deposits in the blood vessels but also the cells of the blood that in attempt of scavenging it, accumulate this harmful fat.
Accumulation of cholesterol in these types of blood cells exacerbates the symptoms of atherosclerosis and also leads to the problems in immune system regulation.
The cells which are majorly affected by cholesterol accumulation are called macrophages and are the major scavengers of the blood.
They eat up foreign material, harmful molecules like cholesterol, bacteria and activate the other parts of the immune system, playing an important role in disease prevention.
However, excess cholesterol leads to not just deposition of the bad fat in arteries causing their narrowing and hardening, it also leads to the loss of the circulating macrophages as the take up a large amount of cholesterol in an attempt of clearing the artery of the dump.
These sick macrophages are also known as macrophage foam cells which are characterized by an increased build up of cholesterol inside them.
Foam cells are not dangerous as such but they form a damaged focal area in the artery at the position of deposition of cholesterol in the artery.
This also leads to further damage, clogging of blood flow and cardiac arrest.
It has been found via a study that curcumin from turmeric reduces the uptake of cholesterol by macrophages so that they don’t turn into foamy cells. Macrophages contain several receptors for cholesterol which turmeric has been found to suppress.
Suppression of these cholesterol receptors reduces the frequency and amount of uptake of cholesterol by the macrophages.
Additionally, curcumin also increases the amount of ABC transporters. These transporters are basically involved in flushing out excess cholesterol from the inside of the macrophages.
When the numbers of ABC transporters are increased on the surface of a macrophage, the deposited cholesterol is effluxes out through these channels again into the blood. Through the blood, it reaches liver where it is metabolized efficiently, again by the action of turmeric, as described above.
What it means: turmeric decreases the accumulation of cholesterol in the scavenger cells of the blood.
This leads to the prevention of foamy scavenger cells which are otherwise more prone to damage and clog an artery leading to strokes and sudden cardiac arrest by stopping the blood flow , .
4. Turmeric helps in reduction of liver cholesterol in case of diabetic hypercholesterolemia
Diabetes is coming up as one of the biggest causes of cholesterol in this century.
Since a large number of people suffer from diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, the overall number of people suffering from hypercholesterolemia has increased along with the ones suffering from diabetes.
Diabetes, especially type 2, leads to obesity and fat metabolism problems. Since, in this disease, the sugar does not metabolize in the body, it turns into fat and consequently causes hypercholesterolemia, even if the patient is not on a high fat diet.
Also, the level and rate of metabolization of fat in diabetic patients is seriously and steadily compromised which is why such patients, especially those suffering from this disease since a long time or those having type 2 diabetes are mostly hypercholesterolemic.
Management of cholesterol for diabetes patients is a big challenge because of the appearance of other symptoms as well which makes it hard to control the amount of fat without taking synthetic drugs .
One popularly emerging method of managing cholesterol for hypercholesterolemic diabetic patients is by regular consumption of turmeric. Curcumin from turmeric has previously been shown to be effective in managing blood sugar levels efficiently.
Recent research, however, has also shed some light over the positive effects of curcumin on the increased metabolism of cholesterol in liver in diabetic rats.
The research proved that curcumin not just managed the blood sugar level but also helped in metabolization of excess cholesterol in the liver in time and dose dependent manner.
There are several other benefits turmeric provides for diabetic patients. Read detailed article on turmeric for diabetes article here>
What it means: turmeric helps in reduction of cholesterol in diabetic patients by increasing the metabolism of fat and cholesterol in the liver and by controlling the blood glucose levels , .
5. Anti-platelet benefits
The anti-platelet benefits of turmeric and curcumin could benefit patients with atherosclerosis.
In another study, rats were given curcumin and cholesterol. Liver cholesterol levels were higher in rats given cholesterol and less in the group given turmeric.
Curcumin also increased cholesterol levels in feces and increased bile acids in both hyper-cholesteraemic and normal rats.
This explained the reason for reduction in levels of tissue cholesterol. Curcumin was able to maintain liver and body weights and the imbalance between β-lipoprotein and α-lipoprotein was almost set right by curcumin intake.
Dosage and consumption
Turmeric has been used since centuries for several medicinal and edible purposes across the world. For edible uses, it is added in curry and other food items to provide colour, flavour and aroma.
Turmeric can be taken as raw powder in the amounts of 400 – 600 mg, three times a day. Taking a good quality turmeric powder as part of diet is the best method to take turmeric.
But as such turmeric can be included to almost everything we cook and eat. You can check out some great recipes with turmeric in our recipe section here>
Since turmeric is not well absorbed in the body, it may not reach the desired tissue in sufficient amounts. Thus a small amount of pepper and fats (coconut oil, olive oil etc.) should be included. This will make sure turmeric actually benefits.
Precautions and side effects
There are not much side effects of turmeric reported. It is one of the safest non toxic herbs known to man, with its use validated through its traditional use since centuries and recently through research as well.
It may however, because mild upset stomach, diarrhoea and kidney stones on over consumption. Turmeric has been proven to decrease blood clotting which is why care should be taken while consuming it in therapeutic amounts along with the drugs like warfarin which also delay blood clotting since it may increase this effect.
Conversely, it may also interfere with the drugs that increase blood clotting. Its consumption in large amounts should be stopped at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery to avoid the risk of bleeding.
Turmeric (especially supplements or an overdose of powder) reduces blood sugar levels and may increase the effect of diabetes medicines leading to hypoglycaemia.
Effect of turmeric consumption in large amounts is not well studied in pregnant and nursing women. Thus, to prevent any unwanted complications, it should be avoided for consumption in therapeutic amounts during gestation and breast feeding. Turmeric supplements should not be taken anyways.
Hypercholesterolemia or high blood cholesterol is a dangerous disorder that builds over time in the body due to poor diet, diabetes and other reasons.
It leads to several other serious consequences such as stroke, heart attack, coronary artery disease etc., to name a few.
Treatment of high cholesterol, especially the one in chronic stages is not easily possible through mere change of diet and lifestyle and presence of diabetes complicates its treatment even more.
Synthetic anti cholesterol drugs are available and widely prescribed by the doctor but are having potential side effects and other consumption problems which is why herbal medications such as turmeric are emerging as potential treatment for this disorder.
Turmeric efficiently helps in quick metabolism of excess cholesterol in the blood, prevents its accumulation and its oxidation. It is also effective in cholesterol management in diabetic patients.
Thus, turmeric can be considered as a novel, non toxic and effective herbal therapy for hypercholesterolemia.