Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in all cells of the body. It is an essential component of cell membranes and is used to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help digest fats. Cholesterol comes from two sources – the body produces it naturally, and it also comes from foods that contain animal products like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.
While cholesterol is necessary for health, having too much cholesterol, especially “bad” LDL cholesterol, can lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. This narrows the arteries and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. High cholesterol usually does not have any obvious symptoms, so many people are unaware that their levels are too high.
Roughly 71 million American adults have high levels of LDL cholesterol. Lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, and weight loss are the first line of treatment, but some people may also need medication to lower their cholesterol. Statins are a common class of cholesterol-lowering medication, but they can cause side effects like muscle pain or liver damage. This has many people looking for natural alternatives like ayurvedic medicine to lower cholesterol.
What is Ayurvedic Medicine?
Ayurveda is a holistic system of medicine that originated in India over 3,000 years ago. The term Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (knowledge or science). Ayurvedic medicine aims to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit using a variety of techniques including herbs, massage, yoga, meditation, and dietary changes.
According to Ayurveda, health problems arise from an imbalance in the three doshas or fundamental energies that govern all biological processes. The doshas are vata, pitta, and kapha. Vata regulates movement and is connected to wind; pitta manages digestion, metabolism, and hormones and is linked to fire; and kapha controls structure and fluid balance and is associated with water and earth. Each person has a unique mix of doshas, so ayurvedic treatments are customized to each individual.
Herbs are a major component of Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda describes thousands of medicinal plants and their effects on different doshas and diseases. Traditionally, ayurvedic herbs are prepared as teas, pastes, syrups, oils and other formulations designed to improve digestion and enhance absorptions of nutrients.
Ayurvedic Approaches to Lower Cholesterol
According to ayurveda, high cholesterol is often related to an imbalance in pitta dosha. Lifestyle factors like improper diet, lack of exercise, and chronic stress can disrupt pitta and allow ama (toxins) to accumulate. This leads to symptoms like high cholesterol, weight gain, and heart disease. Ayurvedic treatments focus on dietary changes, herbs, and detoxification to restore balance to the Pitta dosha and lower high cholesterol.
Ayurveda strongly emphasizes diet modification as a way to boost health. Specific dietary recommendations to lower cholesterol include:
- Eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which are high in fiber
- Choosing monounsaturated fats like olive oil over saturated and trans fats
- Limiting red meat and fatty foods which are difficult to digest and can increase cholesterol
- Drinking green tea which has antioxidants that promote heart health
- Consuming foods that are cooling in nature like cucumbers, berries, and broccoli to balance excess pitta
- Avoiding fried foods, sweets, and alcohol which can disrupt digestion
Ayurvedic herbs have been used traditionally to lower blood cholesterol. Here are some of the most common herbs used:
Guggul (Commiphora mukul): Guggul resin has been shown in studies to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and raise HDL cholesterol. Guggul helps remove ama from channels in the body including the blood.
Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna): The arjuna tree bark has antioxidant properties that strengthen the heart muscle and arteries. One study found it was as effective as a statin drug at lowering LDL cholesterol.
Triphala: This popular Ayurvedic blend contains the dried fruits of amalaki, bibhitaki, and haritaki. It is a mild laxative that helps elimination of wastes from the body.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa): Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory. The curcumin in turmeric prevents fatty deposits from building up in arteries.
Garlic (Allium sativum): Studies show garlic can lower total and LDL cholesterol. It prevents plaque buildup and has blood thinning properties.
Fenugreek seeds (Trigonella foenum-graecum): Fenugreek helps lower absorption of dietary fats and cholesterol. The fiber also binds bile acids to remove cholesterol from the body.
In addition to herbs, traditional compounds like trikatu and chyawanprash are also used to combat high cholesterol. Trikatu is a digestive stimulant, while chyawanprash contains over 50 herbs and has antioxidant activity.
Ayurveda recommends panchakarma, a detox process, to regularly cleanse the body and prevent disease. Purification techniques like therapeutic vomiting, laxatives, enemas, nasal administration of herbs, and medicated oil massages help remove deep-rooted impurities, including excess cholesterol.
Yoga asanas like sitting and standing forward bends, twists, and inversions improve circulation and blood flow. Pranayama breathing exercises reduce stress hormones that can raise cholesterol. Meditation also calms the mind and promotes relaxation.
In addition to herbal remedies, ayurveda offers advice on lifestyle habits that impact cholesterol levels, including:
- Exercising regularly – at least 30 minutes daily
- Staying at a healthy body weight
- Managing stress through yoga, meditation, or pranayama
- Getting quality sleep – going to bed by 10 pm
- Abstaining from smoking and minimizing alcohol intake
- Drinking warm water frequently throughout the day
By addressing contributing factors, ayurvedic medicine seeks to lower high cholesterol from a holistic perspective.
Common Ayurvedic Formulas for Cholesterol
There are many ayurvedic formulas combining multiple herbs and plant products used to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Here are some standard mixtures:
Arjunarishta – contains arjuna bark, triphala guggul, and 18 other herbs
Chandraprabha vati – includes guggul, shilajit, garcinia, and trikatu
Arogyavardhani vati – has tribulus, ashwagandha, shatavari, and other pitta balancing herbs
Mahayograj guggul – a guggul-based formula with triphala, varuna, ginger, black pepper
Kaishore guggul – another guggul formulation along with guduchi, triphala, vidanga, red physic nut
Lakshadi guggul – includes wild yam, triphala, cardamom, licorice, and cinnamon
Kañchanara guggul – prepared from guggul resin, varuna, ginger, and triphala
Ayurvedic practitioners often recommend customized herbal formulas depending on the patient’s specific dosha imbalance and other factors.
Scientific Evidence on Ayurveda and Cholesterol
Some scientific studies have been conducted specifically looking at the efficacy of various ayurvedic herbs and formulations on cholesterol levels:
- Multiple human trials found guggul extracts significantly lower LDL and total cholesterol while raising HDL.
- A study in over 100 coronary heart disease patients found Arjunarishta was as effective as a statin drug in reducing total cholesterol.
- Arjuna bark extract reduced LDL by 17% and boosted HDL by 20% in a trial on diabetes patients.
- In a 3 month study, subjects taking triphala had lowered cholesterol levels and improved circulation compared to placebo group.
- Turmeric supplementation decreased LDL cholesterol by 12% and total cholesterol by 11% in a randomized controlled trial on healthy adults.
- Garlic extract reduced total cholesterol by 15% on average in those with elevated levels, per a meta-analysis of 39 trials.
- Fenugreek fiber supplementation reduced LDL cholesterol by over 20% in patients with both normal and high cholesterol.
While individual herbs show promise, the total holistic approach of Ayurvedic medicine offers synergistic benefits for managing cholesterol through combinations of diet, herbs, detoxification, yoga, and lifestyle changes. More long-term studies are needed to fully evaluate Ayurveda’s effects.
Precautions with Ayurvedic Herbs
It is important to be aware that ayurvedic herbs can cause side effects and may interact with prescription medications:
- Guggul may sometimes cause stomach upset, diarrhea, headaches, or rashes. It should not be taken along with statins or certain antibiotics.
- Arjuna can lower blood pressure, so adjustments to medications may be required. Large doses can be toxic to the liver.
- Triphala is generally very safe but can act as a laxative.
- Turmeric increases the risk of bleeding especially when combined with blood thinners. It may stimulate gallbladder contractions.
- Garlic can also increase bleeding. It may lower blood sugar so diabetic medication doses may need adjusting.
- Fenugreek can cause gas or diarrhea. It also reduces blood sugar, requiring care with anti-diabetes drugs.
To prevent interactions, consult an Ayurvedic practitioner or doctor before taking herbal supplements with prescribed medications. Those on blood thinners should avoid guggul, garlic, and turmeric or use them under supervision only.
Ayurvedic medicine offers a holistic toolkit for addressing high cholesterol through dietary changes, herbal remedies, detoxification protocols, yoga, and lifestyle approaches. Specific herbs like guggul, arjuna, triphala, turmeric, garlic, and fenugreek have demonstrated cholesterol-lowering potential in scientific studies. However, many Ayurvedic formulas combine multiple ingredients for synergistic benefits. Work with a knowledgeable Ayurvedic practitioner to get customized recommendations and carefully monitor cholesterol levels when using Ayurvedic treatments. With proper guidance, Ayurveda provides a heart-healthy, natural alternative to effectively control cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease.