The Ayurvedic Approach to Balancing Blood Cholesterol
In this newsletter we talked to an expert on ayurveda from The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians about the ayurvedic approach to balancing cholesterol.
Q: Can you begin by telling us about cholesterol from the perspective of Maharishi Ayurveda?
A: First of all, it is important to understand that cholesterol is not mentioned in the ayurvedic tradition. Rather, the ayurvedic texts discuss meda dhatu (lipid tissue) and explain how to maintain a healthy quantity and quality of fat tissue in the body. When meda dhatu is balanced and healthy, that subsequently helps to maintain balanced cholesterol.
Meda dhatu, fat tissue, is one of the seven dhatus, or body tissues. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, the body is a combination of the following:
- Doshas — fundamental physiological governing principles (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha)
- Dhatus — 7 tissue elements that support and sustain the body, including rasa dhatu (nutritive fluid), rakta dhatu (blood plasma), mamsa dhatu (muscle), meda dhatu (fat), asthi dhatu (bone), majja dhatu (bone marrow), and shukra dhatu (sperm and ovum)
- Malas — metabolic impurities (urine, bowels, and sweat)
To understand how to maintain healthy meda dhatu, you first need to understand that balance is the main principle of Maharishi Ayurveda. A moderate lifestyle, diet and daily routine upholds balanced functioning of every aspect of life: body, mind and senses. One also has to maintain peacefulness in mind, a blissful consciousness, and balanced control over the senses.
The principle factor behind balance in the body is balanced agni (digestive fire). Digestion is quite literally the basis for good health in every part of the body.
For instance, the creation of healthy body tissue (dhatu) requires a brightly-burning digestive fire, or metabolic process. A strong agni is equally important in maintaining balance in the doshas and malas.
Therefore, when digestion, assimilation and elimination are balanced, fat tissue and cholesterol will also be balanced.
It's important to understand that fat tissue (cholesterol) in itself is not bad, and is actually essential for the body to function properly. So in the ayurvedic perspective, the production of cholesterol does not necessarily need to be lessened, but it needs to be balanced. When the digestion is balanced and healthy, then the body produces the right amount of cholesterol, in the right proportion to nourish the body.
Q: What causes cholesterol function to become imbalanced?
A: Digestion depends on the strength of the digestive fire (agni). Digestive fire is sustained with the fuel of wholesome foods and drinks. If we eat too little, or if we eat unwholesome foods and drinks, the digestive fire dwindles.
There are 13 agnis that work together in the digestive process. First, the food is metabolized by the main digestive fire (jathar-agni), located in the stomach and duodenum. Next it is metabolized by the five elemental fires located in the liver (bhut-agnis), and finally by seven dhatu-agnis, located in the seven tissues. These 13 types of agnis form the metabolism and digestive system in the body.
When we eat fatty or oily food, it is metabolized by these 13 agnis in a sequential process. Jathar-agni helps to break down the food. The bhut-agnis help to screen toxins and ensure that the food is transformed into healthy, good-quality body tissue. The dhatu-agnis help transform the food into their respective tissues.
So the strength of the various digestive fires is needed for the tissues to be formed properly, including the fat tissue. When the production of meda dhatu is disturbed, the quantity (amount and proportion) and quality (contents) of meda dhatu are also disturbed. In other words, because cholesterol is one of the contents of lipid tissue, the production of cholesterol becomes imbalanced when meda dhatu is imbalanced.
Q: What is the role of the liver in producing healthy fat tissue and balanced cholesterol?
A: It's important to understand that the liver not only produces cholesterol, but it's also 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 (agnis).
This results in one of three types of imbalances: 1) an increase in meda dhatu, 2) a decrease of meda dhatu, or 3) meda dhatu mixed with ama.
When meda dhatu mixes with ama, it changes the quality of fat tissue and the quality 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.
Q: What are the main causes of imbalanced digestion?
A: These 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), eating too little (below the digestive capacity), and eating faulty food (against the digestive capacity). Other physical causes include eating before the previous meal is digested, eating irregular amounts at irregular times of day, eating while suffering from 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.
Q: Can you tell us more about these toxins and how they affect us?
A: 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 a 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. When amavisha starts to spread throughout the body, it can mix with the dhatus (body tissues) and the malas (waste products).
If amavisha mixes with the fat tissue, and at the same time one continues to engage in an unhealthy lifestyle or diet, it can cause imbalance and disease in the lipid tissues. These lifestyle errors include: 1) lack of exercise, 2) sleeping during the day, 3) eating excessive amounts of fatty foods, and 4) indulging in alcoholic drinks.
For instance, imbalanced meda dhatu can distort the cardiovascular veins, called the raktavahi srotas in ayurveda. When they become stiff and clogged, this causes high blood pressure. 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 all of the problems that are associated with impure lipid tissue which in turn are associated with high cholesterol, even though it's not the cholesterol itself that causes these problems.
Toxins also enter the body from the environment, with exposure to lead and other heavy metals, or water or air pollution. These environmental toxins are called garvisha in ayurveda, and they are the third type of toxin. Eating food that is grown using 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.
Q: What causes these three types of ama to accumulate in the liver and in the fat tissue?
A: To understand this, we need to look at how the seven tissues (dhatus) in the body are formed. As mentioned earlier, one of the seven dhatus is meda dhatu, fat tissue. All of the tissues are formed in a sequence of metabolic transformations, and the health and strength of each type of tissue is based on the previous one. When you eat food, it is converted into the rasa (nutritive fluid) and from there 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 the muscle tissue, which are all raw material for forming fat tissue, then that ama will also be present in the fat tissue. So that is one reason for ama in the fat tissue: ama accumulating in the rasa, rakta or mamsa tissues.
A second reason is eating unhealthy types of fat, which do not nourish the body but rather create ama. By unhealthy fat, we mean fat that is difficult to digest. This includes saturated fats found in meat, butter and vegetable oils. A worse type of fat that is virtually indigestible are the 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 cold-pressed 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.
Q: Can you explain how the liver reacts when it is confronted with unhealthy fat or too much fat?
A: Certainly. There are two subdoshas of Pitta, Pachaka Pitta and Ranjaka Pitta, that govern the digestion. Pachaka Pitta governs the breakdown of the food in the stomach and small intestine. Ranjaka Pitta governs the five bhut-agnis, and also bile production, which is important in the digestion of fat.
There are many ayurvedic herbs that help increase bile production so healthy fat tissue (i.e., healthy cholesterol) can be processed properly by the liver and not cause harm to the body. Ranjaka Pitta supports the five bhut-agnis that reside in the liver to effectively process fat and prevent imbalanced qualities in the body's lipids (meda dhatu).
These five bhut-agnis are called the elemental agnis, because each one corresponds to one the five elements: earth (prithvi), water (apu), fire (tejas), air (vayu) and space (akasha).
For example, the food that you eat contains all five elements, and each element in the food is processed by the corresponding agni in your body. So the tejas agni would process the fire element in food, and the apu agni would process the water element.
Q: And what happens if the liver has to process unhealthy fat or if the fat contains ama, amavisha or garvisha?
A: The bhut-agnis also scan and identify toxins. Fat is processed by all the five bhut-agnis, because even though it is primarily composed of the earth element, it contains a small amount of all five elements. If the fat is unhealthy, then each of these bhut-agnis must scan for toxins and take care of the toxins.
If it is simple ama, the bhut-agnis burn it, because heat purifies ama. If it is amavisha, the bhut-agni first must neutralize it, and then eliminate it from the rasa (nutritive fluid) so it doesn't get passed on to the body tissues. For the third type of toxin, garvisha, which includes toxins from chemicals, pesticides, or some other environmental causes, the bhut-agnis scan and identify garvisha, and if they find it they store it elsewhere in the liver.
If the liver is functioning in a healthy way, the bhut-agnis do not let these toxins pass into the body. If the liver is overloaded with too many toxins over a period of time, then it loses its ability to screen and eliminate toxins. If the garvisha (environmental toxins such as pesticides) cross the scanning barrier, they often collect in the fat tissue, leading to diseases such as breast cancer.
You can see that the liver acts in a very intelligent way. So that's why just increasing the bile (or fuel for the agni) is not enough to lower the cholesterol, as is often thought in Western medicine. Yes, it is important to increase bile production, but it's also important to enhance the intelligence of the liver so it can scan the foods better and eliminate the toxins. Maharishi Ayurveda, in balancing cholesterol, not only enhances bile production but also increases the ability of the liver to intelligently scan and eliminate toxins.
Let's suppose that everything has gone fine, and ama, amavisha and garvisha are scanned and eliminated by the five bhut-agnis. Then the next step is the domain of the dhatu agnis, which, as I explained before, convert the food into body tissue in a sequence.
It's possible that the rasa, rakta, and mamsa dhatu agnis will do their job, and then the meda dhatu agni, which converts muscle tissue into fat tissue, must perform its function next. If the meda dhatu agni is low or out of balance, or is overloaded, then too much fat or too little fat can be created.
This is why it is so important to eat only the good kind of fat, and to eat only the proper quantity, so the five bhut-agnis and the meda agni are not overloaded.
It's also why we have created ayurvedic food supplements to strengthen the five bhut-agnis and the meda agni so the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol remains balanced.
Q: What foods contain saturated fats and why are they bad for us?
A: Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Eating saturated fat should be avoided, because it can lead to imbalanced cholesterol production and disease.
Most saturated fats come from animal products. They include lard, butter, hard cheeses, cream, ice cream, beef, pork, poultry with skin, palm oil, and coconut oil. Saturated fats are often used in fried foods and desserts such as cakes and cookies.
Q: What foods contain trans fats and why are they bad for us?
A: Trans fats are a modern invention, formed by adding hydrogen to liquid fats. These trans fats cannot be digested by the body and thus create ama. They are considered to be far more harmful than saturated fats in disturbing the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol. Consuming a diet high in trans fat not only raises cholesterol levels but increases risk of heart disease, stroke and type II diabetes.
Margarine and vegetable shortening are trans fats, so you'll want to stop using them. Because most packaged foods and restaurant fried foods contain trans fats, the easiest way to avoid these harmful fats is to stop buying packaged foods such as doughnuts, cakes, pies, cookies, pastries, pizza dough, crackers, biscuits, and fried foods. Look for labels such as hydrogenated vegetable oil, partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil, hydrolyzed vegetable oil and partially-hydrolyzed vegetable oil — as these are all names for trans fats. And avoid eating fried food at restaurants, especially fast food restaurants, as trans fats are commonly used for frying French fries and other foods.
Q: What are the recommended guidelines for fats in our diets?
A: The American Heart Association recommends limiting your intake of saturated fats to less than 7% of your total calories for the day. So if your total calories was 1500, you would eat only 105 calories of saturated fats. Trans fats should be avoided altogether.
Monounsaturated fats are recommended, as they reduce total cholesterol levels and have the added advantage of raising HDL cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends that you include 10 to 15 percent of your total daily calories in monounsaturated fats such as canola oil and olive oil.
Polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts and in corn, safflower, sesame, and sunflower oils, also help to reduce total cholesterol levels, but because they also lower HDL cholesterol, they are not considered as healthy as monounsaturated oils. The American Heart Association recommends that we get no more than 10 percent of our total daily calories from polyunsaturated fats. And they shouldn't be heated. Buy cold-pressed polyunsaturated oils and use them raw in salad dressings instead.
Q: What fats are recommended by Maharishi Ayurveda?
A: The two fats recommended by Maharishi Ayurveda are ghee and olive oil. Ghee, or clarified butter, is made by boiling butter and separating out the milk solids. What is left is a clear, pure fat that can be heated to high temperatures without destroying its natural qualities.
Ghee provides essential fatty acids (fats that cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from food). Ghee is the most easily digestible fat, and it contains Vitamins A and E and acts as an antioxidant. It is also a highly-intelligent type of fat, because it is a food that converts quickly into ojas, the master coordinator that integrates consciousness, mind and body. Ojas is another word for nature's intelligence in the body.
The other oil that is recommended is olive oil. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, which means that it actually lowers cholesterol and triglycerides. But it is important to choose first cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil, which means that the oil is pressed from the olives without heat or unnatural processing. This method of processing has been followed for thousands of years, and it doesn't destroy the nutritional quality of the oil, unlike modern processing methods, which involve high heat and chemical additives.
It's also important not to heat olive oil at high temperatures for cooking. Use it for baking, for salad dressings, and for low-heat sautéing of spices and vegetables. If you need to heat the oil at higher temperatures, it's better to use ghee.
Both ghee and olive oil are recommended, because nature's intelligence has not been destroyed in their processing. Ghee contains smaller, highly intelligent fat molecules that pass through the lipid barrier and nourish the brain, which needs a higher proportion of intelligent fats than the rest of the body to function properly. That is why ghee is known as medhya, a substance that nourishes mental functioning and improves learning, retention and recall, in the same way that certain herbs and Rasayanas nourish the mind.
The srotas, too, are a highly intelligent part of the body, and thus need a highly intelligent or healthy fat to nourish them. Lack of nourishment from intelligent fats can cause many problems in the coordination of heart and mind.
Q: What about canola oil? It's a monounsaturated fat, so isn't it a good fat?
A: Canola oil is a monounsaturated fat, it's true. But 50% of the canola oil grown in America and Canada today is genetically modified, which means that its natural intelligence is destroyed. For this reason, canola oil is not recommended by Maharishi Ayurveda.
Q: Even though ghee and olive oil are nutritious and intelligent, you said it's possible to cause high cholesterol levels by eating too much of them. How much is too much?
A: That is a very good question. To understand how much, you first need to realize that not everyone is made the same. Each person has a different body type, and for some people, even one teaspoon of ghee used in cooking twice a day may be too much. If you have a Kapha imbalance or are predominantly Kapha, you probably require less fat, and too much fat — even the good kind of fat — could lead to imbalances such as obesity and high cholesterol. A person with a Vata imbalance, on the other hand, needs more healthy oils and fats to stay healthy and to maintain a normal body weight.
But to digest fat, even good fats like ghee and olive oil, a person needs to have a strong agni, or digestive fire. Remember that there are actually 13 agnis, or metabolic processes, that participate in digestion. If fat metabolism or any of the first nine agnis that support meda dhatu agni in the sequence of digestion (i.e. jathar-agni, the five bhut-agnis, rasa dhatu agni, rakta dhatu agni, mamsa dhatu agni) is weak, then that person is not going to be able to digest as much fat as someone who has strong fat metabolism.
Weak fat metabolism is one problem, but another problem is caused when the digestion is too high, or sharp. Called tikshnagni (literally, sharp agni), this is actually one cause of amavisha, the reactive type of ama.
Q: So is a low-fat diet to lower cholesterol a good idea, from the ayurvedic perspective?
A: From the ayurvedic perspective, the body also needs a proper amount of fat tissue for supporting and lubricating the body's channels, known as srotas. Millions of microsrotas carry nutrients to the cells and waste away from the cells. Other srotas are larger, such as the arteries and veins that carry blood to and from the heart. All of these srotas, whether large or small, are made of the element akasha, or space, because they are basically hollow. Vayu, the element of air, is responsible for moving blood, air, nutritive fluid or waste through these channels.
Because both Vayu and Akasha are dry by nature, the srotas can become dry and brittle over time. This is especially true in the Vata time of life, from age 60 and older, when the dry, quick-moving Vata dosha predominates. To keep the srotas flexible, elastic and functional, they must be constantly lubricated with fat tissue. Of special importance are the delicate pranavahi srotas (channels carrying prana vata, or oxygen) that lead to the brain. If they dry out, the brain doesn't receive enough oxygen, creating symptoms such as fatigue, lack of focus, high blood pressure, dementia and Alzheimer's. The srotas that carry hot fluids such as blood also are prone to drying out, which can cause narrowing and even obstruction of the arteries (atherosclerosis). So this is another reason why your body needs a certain amount of fat tissue: to keep the body and its srotas unctous, healthy and vital. And the amount of fat that is healthy for a person depends on their body type and health needs. It is different for different people.
Q: Can you tell us about Cholesterol Protection, the Maharishi Ayurveda supplement designed to help balance cholesterol levels in the body?
A: Maharishi Ayurveda Cholesterol Protection is an herbal product that enhances digestion and liver function, generating more bile and balancing the overall amount of healthy fat tissue including cholesterol. But it goes beyond the simple increasing of bile by improving fat metabolism, thus reducing the production of excess cholesterol, and creating a healthier ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol. It strengthens liver function, enhances successful metabolism of food, and builds plasma, blood, muscle and fat tissue. It enhances the quality, quantity and metabolism of fats, helping break down fatty foods so they can be converted to healthy fat tissue.
Finally, it flushes cholesterol from the elimination tract. This is also a very important factor, because when the liver purifies toxins and bad cholesterol, it dumps them in the colon to be eliminated by the body. So it's very important that the elimination system be strengthened to cleanse the bad cholesterol from the body.
Q: What herbs are contained in the formula?
A: There are five major herbs included in Cholesterol Protection to produce healthier fat tissue and balance cholesterol production: Phyllanthus niruri, Guduchi (Indian Tinospora), Indian Sarsaparilla (Hemidesmus Indicus), Parijat (Night Jasmine), and Manjistha (Indian Madder). Each of these helps with bile secretion and also purifies blood and muscle tissue, thus purifying the building blocks for healthy fat tissue.
In addition, Guduchi strengthens all of the dhatu agnis, including meda dhatu agni, which is responsible for fat metabolism. Guduchi supports intellectual stamina to enhance the quality of fat for the entire body. Another way to say this is that it supports the production of ojas, which is the master coordinator between consciousness, the doshas, tissues and metabolism for the whole body — including fat tissue and fat metabolism. It does this by enhancing the intelligence of the liver and the intelligence of the other ingredients in Cholesterol Protection.
Guggul increases fat metabolism. Shilajit (Mineral Pitch) enhances metabolism and prevents nutrients from being lost in the metabolic process. Manjistha and Indian Sarsaparilla help bring balance to the interaction between the liver (governed by Ranjaka Pitta) and blood plasma, thus creating purer blood by screening out toxins. Parijat helps cool the body and eliminate excess heat, thus preventing the formation of amavisha. It is also good for the joints and nerves, especially the sciatica nerve.
Other ingredients also have a profound effect in supporting healthy cholesterol levels. Turmeric supports the liver, purifies the blood, increases bile and enhances the interaction of plasma and blood. Trikatu, which is a combination of powdered ginger, Long Pepper and black pepper, enhances absorption and thus makes the other herbs in the formula easier to assimilate. Licorice balances all three doshas and especially helps cool Pitta dosha, decreasing the reactivity of amavisha. It also increases bioavailability of the other ingredients in the formula. Triphala, which includes Haritaki (Chebulic Myrobalan), Amalaki (Amla), and Bibhitaki (Belleric Myrobalan), helps scrub the colon and remove cholesterol from the body through the bowel. Finally, zinc (Yasad Bhasma) increases fat metabolism.
Many of these traditionally known herbs have been examined in modern research studies. In a double-blind study published in Science, Guggul was shown to reduce cholesterol as much as cholesterol-lowering drugs, but without the harmful side effects. Turmeric was found to lower triglycerides and serum cholesterol. Phyllanthus niruri significantly lowered serum lipid levels and protected the liver from toxins. Zinc was found to reduce atherosclerosis.
Q: Are there any dietary and lifestyle tips you can give us for lowering cholesterol?
A: Yes. The general guideline is to follow a light Kapha-pacifying diet, because those foods will help increase fat metabolism without creating much dryness and brittleness in the body. A Kapha-pacifying diet favors bitter, astringent and pungent foods. Astringent foods include most pulses or dried beans, such as lentils, split mung dhal, and garbanzo beans. Stay away from the larger beans, but favor the smaller, split kind. Astringent foods also include many vegetables, such as the cruciferous family (broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower) and fruits such as apples and pears.
The ideal breakfast is a cooked apple with cooked prunes and figs. This will help cleanse the bowel and lower cholesterol levels. Bitter foods include greens such as spinach, chard, kale and mustard greens. These greens, when cooked and seasoned with spices, help cleanse the bowel and thus prevent the bad type of cholesterol from accumulating.
Avoid sweet, sour and salty foods. Sweet foods include not only sugar but also rice, wheat, pasta, breads, and sweet milk products. Sour foods include not only lemons and other sour fruits, but yogurt, cheese, tomatoes and vinegar, which is found in salad dressings, ketchup, mustard and pickles.
Always cook your food and eat it warm, because this helps counteract the cool, earthy Kapha dosha. Avoid bad fats, and cook with small amounts of ghee or olive oil.
Milk can be made more digestible and cholesterol-lowering by following this simple recipe. Boil a cup of whole, organic milk in one pan for five minutes and a cup of water with a pinch of cardamom and a pinch of cinnamon in another pan for five minutes. Mix them together and sip slowly.
Milk is not only a good source of protein for vegetarians, but it also converts quickly into ojas, making it a healthy ayurvedic food. In recent months, research has been published indicating that milk actually decreases obesity, due to the holistic effect created by calcium and other nutrients.
Q: What are the best grains for providing fiber in the diet?
A: Soluble fiber (i.e. fiber that dissolves in water, such as oats, barley, and other whole grains) helps lower cholesterol levels by improving elimination, so it's recommended that you include 15 grams of soluble fiber in your diet every day, with a total of soluble and insoluble fiber of 25-35 grams per day.
The Kapha pacifying diet also includes many healthy grains. Whole oats provide needed fiber, as does barley, quinoa and amaranth. Quinoa also contains zinc, which enhances fat metabolism.
Of the whole grains, the most highly recommended fiber is barley. Barley is karshana, which means that it enhances fat metabolism. Barley contains fiber throughout its entire grain kernel. Even if the outer bran layer is removed, as in pearled barley, there is still enough fiber in the kernel. Even though the grain is processed to remove the hull, bran, and some of the inner layer, it still provides three grams of dietary fiber in a half cup serving. You can also eat barley flakes, quick-cooking barley, and hulled or hull-less barley.
Q: Many people snack on junk foods and raise their cholesterol that way. Can you suggest some healthy snacks?
A: Maharishi Ayurveda does not encourage snacks, as it disrupts the digestive process to eat before the previous meal has been digested. Instead, it's better to eat balanced, freshly-cooked meals of organic foods flavored with all six tastes. When you include all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent) in every meal, you will not have unnatural cravings that make you want to eat snacks. Also, if you eat your main meal at noon, when the sun and your digestive fire are both at their zenith, you won't feel as hungry before the next meal.
But sometimes if you are hungry between meals you can try the following:
- 1 ripe fruit, such as an apple, orange, peach, slice of melon, or 2 smaller fruits, such as 1 cup of grapes, 1/2 cup of strawberries or blueberries, or 2 mandarin oranges.
- A bowl of sliced fruit, flavored with cinnamon and a teaspoon of honey.
- 1 cup of 100% pure orange juice, grape juice, or pomegranate juice. Fresh-squeezed is best.
- 1 whole-wheat pita bread, warmed and filled with tomatoes, hummus, and leaves of cilantro, parsely, basil or mint.
- 1 apple cooked with a handful of raisins.
- Steamed pear topped with raisins.
- ¼ cup of dried fruit.
- Homemade trail mix made with 1 cup whole-grain toasted oat cereal, combined with ¼ cup chopped walnuts and ¼ cup dried cranberries or blueberries or raisins.
- A small handful of mixed, unsalted nuts such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, or pecans.
- Toasted flat bread topped with one tablespoon of fresh cheese (such as panir) sprinkled with freshly-chopped herbs or herbal pesto.
- 2 slices of toasted, whole-grain/multi-seed, yeast-free bread topped with raw honey and cinnamon.
- Toasted flat bread topped with raw honey, cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of soaked nuts. Avoid cashews, as they are high in fat.
- 1 cup unbuttered/unsweetened popcorn, seasoned with herbs.
- Small bowl of tossed salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber; grated carrot, beet and daikon radish; chopped fresh herbs; and lemon and olive oil dressing.
- ½-1 cup puffed rice or kasha.
- Rice cake topped with honey.
- 1 cup sweet or salty yogurt drink (lassi).
Q: And what about lifestyle tips?
A: It's ideal to follow a Kapha-pacifying routine. This includes exercising every single day. Exercise balances all the agnis, including the five bhut-agnis and meda agni, all of which are important for metabolizing fat and creating healthy cholesterol. Exercise also improves circulation, which helps the dhatu agnis such as meda agni.
Yoga asanas and surya namaskara (sun salutations) are part of the ayurvedic routine and can be performed twice daily for ten minutes each. Pranayama, or yogic breathing exercises, are also recommended, as proper breathing helps digestion and helps clean the srotas, or channels. To keep cholesterol in balance, it's also important to do some kind of aerobic exercise in addition to yoga and sun salutes for at least half an hour every day. You can start with brisk walking, which is sufficient for many people. But if you feel the need for more vigorous exercise, you can swim, cross-country ski, kayak, take an aerobics class, or play sports. The important thing is to exert to only fifty percent of your capacity, and to gradually increase your endurance by exercising every day.
The Kapha-pacifying routine also discourages sleeping during the day, as this causes the metabolism to slow and the srotas, or channels, to fill with ama. Wake up before six o'clock, and avoid daytime naps. Eat your meals at the same time every day, and plan to eat your largest meal at lunchtime, when your digestion is strong. To avoid indigestion at night, eat lightly.
Finally, one of the most effective ways to lower cholesterol is to practice the Transcendental Meditation® technique. The American Heart Association has recently published a study in its journal Stroke that showed that the simple practice of the Transcendental Meditation® technique lowered cholesterol and the threat of stroke as much as cholesterol-lowering drugs — but without the dangerous side effects. Practicing the TM technique twenty minutes twice a day has another advantage — it reduces stress and improves mental clarity, making it easier to follow a healthy diet and make healthy lifestyle choices the rest of the day.
A Sample of Research Studies on Ayurvedic Herbs that Lower Cholesterol
Science 2002 May; 31; 296(5573): 1703-6, "A natural product that lowers cholesterol as an antagonist ligand for FXR," Urizar NL, Liverman AB, Dodds DT, Silva FV, Ordentlich P, Yan Y, Gonzalez FJ, Heyman RA, Mangelsdorf DJ, Moore DD.
This study found that extracts of the resin of the guggul tree (Commiphora mukul) lowers the LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels in humans.
J Assoc Physicians India 1981 Jan; 29(1): 13-7, "Effects of Commiphora Mukul (Guggul) in experimentally induced hyperlipemia and atherosclerosis," Baldwa VS, Bhasin V, Ranka PC, Mathur KM.
Cardiovasc Drugs Ther 1994 Aug; 8(4): 659-64, "Hypolipidemic and antioxidant effects of Commiphora mukul as an adjunct to dietary therapy in patients with hypercholesterolemia," Singh RB, Niaz MA, Ghosh S. The effects of guggul on patients with hypercholesterolemia were studied in this double-blind study of 61 patients with hypercholesterolemia who were on a fruit-and vegetable-enriched diet. The thirty-one patients in one group who were given guggul in addition to the special diet each day decreased their total cholesterol by 11.78%, their LDL cholesterol level by 12.5%, their triglycerides by 12.08%, and their lipid peroxide levels (which indicate oxidative stress) by 33.3%. The control group, which received a placebo instead of guggul, but also followed the diet, showed no change. The combined effect of diet and guggul at 36 weeks was as great as the reported lipid-lowering effect of modern drugs.
Mol Cell Biochem 1987 Sep; 77(1): 3-10, "Lipid peroxide induced DNA damage: protection by turmeric (Curcuma longa)," Shalini VK, Srinivas L. Turmeric was found to be as effective an antioxidant as BHA. Turmeric was found to inhibit lipid peroxidation by 70%, indicating the presence of another antioxidant in turmeric besides lipophilic curcumin.
J Ethnopharmacol 1985 Sep; 14(1): 41-4 Antihepatotoxic principles of Phyllanthus niruri herbs, Syamasundar KV, Singh B, Thakur RS, Husain A, Kiso Y, Hikino H. In this study, Phyllanthus niruri was found to protect the liver against certain toxins.
J Ren Nutr 2002 Jul; 12(3): 183-9, "The effects of zinc supplementation on serum zinc and cholesterol concentrations in hemodialysis patients," Chevalier CA, Liepa G, Murphy MD, Suneson J, Vanbeber AD, Gorman MA, Cochran C. This study concluded that zinc supplementation is an effective means of improving serum levels of zinc and cholesterol in the hemodialysis patient.
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