Along with measuring blood pressure and heart rate, one of the standard procedures practiced by health professionals is the measurement of cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty deposit in the blood that is crucial for basic bodily functions such as the production of cell membranes. There are two types of cholesterol:
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), which are known as bad cholesterol
High-density lipoproteins (HDL), which are known as good cholesterol
Having too much LDL cholesterol can clog the arteries and cause heart disease, stroke, or other serious medical conditions. Given the potentially fatal nature of these diseases, it has become very important in Western culture to identify one’s cholesterol count and take action to resolve any issues uncovered by poor numbers. It has been stated by the Western medical community that it is ideal to have an LDL count of between 70 and 130 mg/dL, and an HDL count of at least between 40 and 60 mg/dL. Lower numbers are better for LDL, and higher numbers are better for HDL.
Seventy-five percent of all cholesterol is produced by the body itself., The remaining 25-percent comes from the food one eats. Though eating saturated fats found in animal products (like meat, egg yolks, and dairy products) as well as trans fats found in packaged foods (like potato chips) can lead to raising the levels of LDLs. Many people who have high LDL counts have inherited genes from their parents that make them predisposed to having an unhealthy amount of bad cholesterol in their blood.
Western medicine treats high cholesterol with suggested lifestyle changes and medication. Patients of Western doctors are advised to refrain from eating foods with saturated or trans fats, lose weight if they are overweight or obese, exercise regularly, and eat a high-fiber diet including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Many medications used to treat this condition lower the level of LDLs in the blood, and these include medicines like Lipitor, Crestor, Vytorin and Zocor.
Though Ayurveda’s tradition spans more than 5,000 years, it doesn’t specifically address high cholesterol as a condition to be resolved. However, high cholesterol can be related to Ayurveda through the science’s explanation of how our intake and digestion of food defines the health and balance of the different types of tissues in the body. When we eat food, it gets digested and contributes to the formation of things such as muscles, fat, bones, and semen.
To sustain healthy tissue, we must eat a balanced diet that keeps our three doshas as balanced as possible. When we ingest excessive amounts of toxic matter in the form of too much animal protein (especially non-organic hormone fed creatures), processed foods, or a type of food that
aggravates one of the doshas (e.g. eating too many spicy foods which then aggravate the fiery Pitta dosha), we compromise the balance of our digestive fire which in turn creates an imbalance in the different tissues in the body.
Specifically to high cholesterol, when we consume poor fats like saturated and trans fats, as well as eat a poor diet of processed foods, alcohol, and foods grown with pesticides and other chemicals; the imbalanced digestive fire hinders the liver’s ability to provide a healthy detoxification of the body and the body produces either too much or too little fat tissue. This imbalance can form in the blood as high amounts of what we in the West know as LDL cholesterol.
The most important step Ayurvedic patients can take to lower their cholesterol count is to balance their digestive fire through a dosha-balancing diet and exercise routine. If their most dominant element is their airy Vata dosha, then their diet must consist of Vata-reducing foods (like oils) and their physical activity must be calming and grounding. If their most dominant element is their fiery Pitta dosha, then their diet must consist of Pitta-reducing foods (like sweet fruits) and their physical activity must be gentle and more soothing.
If their most dominant element is their moist and earthy Kapha dosha, then their diet must consist of Kapha-reducing foods (like pungent and bitter vegetables) and their physical activity must produce heat in the body. In balancing your most dominant elements, high cholesterol sufferers can strengthen and balance their digestive fire and ultimately balance the production of fat tissue in the body.
When we neglect to establish the root cause of one illness, it can turn into another, stronger illness in the future. The first step in resolving a specific ailment or disease in the body is to assess the nature of our lifestyle and make general modifications. Living our day-to-day life with a deliberate intention to improve our health will help us to both resolve the disease we are suffering from and prevent further incidence of it and other diseases in the future. When responding to high cholesterol, it is important to build a lifestyle that balances the digestive fire and creates as little toxicity in the liver as possible.
Ayurveda teaches us that disease and sickness are derived from poor digestion and inappropriate food choices. We then have the opportunity tomake deliberate and more conscious decisions as to what foods we do and do not put in our body which increases the chance of resolving the body’s imbalance.
Food needs to be in season, in moderate combinations of one or two food groups, not too hot or cold, in a modest enough quantity to allow for room left over in the stomach, consumed without too much liquid which hinders digestive power, and should be fresh and not left over from more than a few hours before. When addressing high cholesterol, it is important to eat foods that help to balance the most dominant elements in the body. Each of the following lists of foods is offered to balance each dosha as indicated:
Rice (white basmati)
Cow’s milk (in moderation)
Nuts (in moderation)
Rice (white basmati)
While some foods can help to balance an aggravated dosha, other foods can cause further imbalance. Dry and cold foods as well as pungent, bitter and astringent tastes will dry out the body and aggravate the Vata dosha.Sour, salty and pungent tastes as well as spicy foods will add more heat to the body and aggravate the Pitta dosha.Sweet, sour and salty tasting foods will add heaviness to the body and aggravate the Kapha dosha. Avoiding each of the following lists of foods can help to balance whichever dosha is most aggravated in relation to high cholesterol:
Most legumes including green lentils and garbanzo beans
Raw and cold foods
Sour foods (like yogurt, sour cream, and pickles)
Sweets and candies
Dairy products (except goat milk, in moderation)
Generally, Ayurveda discourages the consumption of too many cold beverages, as doing so hinders the strength of the body’s digestive fire. Instead, favors room temperature or hot beverages to encourage the strength of the digestive fire.
Herbs are used in the Ayurvedic system much like Western medicine utilizes drugs and vitamins and can be taken like tea 2 to 3 times a day. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, the breakdown and elimination of toxins, and help to strengthen the cellular structure of our system for greater vitality. Herbs become more potent once mixed with other herbs of similar properties. Mix together 2 to 4 different herbs from the below list by adding a quarter to a half teaspoon full of each, for a total of 1 teaspoon. Drink these in half cup of hot water. The following herbs will help balance digestive fire and stimulate a healthy circulatory system:
Saffron (mixed with boiled milk)
Aloe vera gel
When applied therapeutically to specific ailments, yoga postures provide an opportunity to strengthen the body, rid it of toxic matter, and restore balance. The postures included in this section can be practiced as part of a more general sequence or can be focused on in short sessions. When first exploring yoga postures, it is best to only practice them for twenty minutes or so per day and build up from there once the body becomes more flexible. The following postures are broken down by dosha, and high cholesterol sufferers should favor poses that balance their most excessive elements:
Knee to chest
Knee to chest
Aromatherapy utilizes the fragrances of essential oils when applied to the skin. Essential oils can burn the skin and therefore must be diluted with a base oil such as sesame, coconut, sunflower, canola, or mustard oil. Mix 1 fluid ounce of base oil with about 12 drops of essential oil before applying to skin. You can also just mix 5 drops of base oil to one drop of essential oil if using on one spot.
High cholesterol with Vata-based imbalances can be treated with basil, camphor, cedar, eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, cinnamon, lavender, lily, lotus, musk, myrrh, patchouli, sandalwood, or saffron oil.
High cholesterol with Pitta-based imbalances can be treated with sandalwood, tea tree, rose, honeysuckle, gardenia, lily, iris, mint, lavender, or lotus oil.
High cholesterol with Kapha-based imbalances can be treated with cinnamon, eucalyptus, sage, basil, musk, cedar, frankincense, or myrrh oil.
Ayurvedic tradition suggests that repeating certain words or sounds can help a person suffering from an ailment to restore subtle balance to nerve tissue and enhance one’s mental clarity. Different sounds are prescribed to either repeat mentally or chant outwardly. These sounds are also used and repeated in the mind for the purpose of spiritual growth.
For high cholesterol with Vata-based imbalances, repeat the syllable “Ram” for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
As a Vata-related disorder, it is helpful to inwardly repeat this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced.
For high cholesterol with Pitta-based imbalances, repeat the syllable “Aum” (pronounced ohm) for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
As a Pitta-related disorder, it is helpful to both outwardly chant and inwardly repeat this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced.
For high cholesterol with Kapha-based imbalances, repeat the syllable “Hoom” for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
As a Kapha-related disorder, it is helpful to outwardly chant this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced.
Controlling the breath is a central practice toward developing peace and stillness in the mind and body. When the breath is under our control, we are no longer at the mercy of the senses that are stimulated by everything and lead to greater fluctuations of the mind. When applied to the context of resolving specific ailments, the breath is used as a tool for developing lung capacity, heating and cooling the body and resolving mental afflictions like anxiety and stress. Like with the yoga postures above, breathing exercises are likely to be of significant benefit to those who suffer from considerable amounts of stress.
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