You’ve probably seen those commercials for cholesterol medications, typically statin drugs, which discuss the ways that you might develop high cholesterol in the first place. You know, the ones that show a piece of food that might contribute to high cholesterol and then show a photo of a family member who has an uncanny resemblance to that food. I, for one, would never want to have my photo compared to a deviled egg and find a strange similarity but the commercial gets its point across in a memorable way. High cholesterol and hyperlipidemia are often connected to two different things: dietary choices and genetics. However, statin drugs are not your only weapon. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be used in combination with smart dietary choices to decrease cholesterol levels in the body and either delay medication usage or decrease reliance on it.
Hyperlipidemia is a term that refers to an elevated level of lipids, or fats, in the blood plasma. The lipids are transported to areas around the body by different proteins and these proteins are the ones that anyone with high cholesterol is familiar with. The main culprits are very-low density lipoproteins (VLDL) and low density lipoproteins (LDL). The proteins carry the lipids to the liver where they are converted to compounds suitable for immediate usage or for storage as adipose, or fat, tissue. Hyperlipidemia occurs when there is an issue with the conversion of VLDL and LDL in the body and too much cholesterol stays in the blood.
In Chinese medicine, hyperlipidemia falls into the category of symptoms caused by excess phlegm dampness and a deficiency of spleen qi. The phlegm dampness is considered a branch symptom since it often develops due to the root issue of spleen qi deficiency. When the spleen qi does not function correctly, it is unable to remove the nutrients from the meal effectively and the excess is left over as lipids, or phlegm dampness, traveling in the blood. Three main factors can lead to a decrease in the functionality of the digestive system and its engine, the spleen qi. The first is an improper diet. An improper diet can tax the digestive system and make it difficult for the spleen. The second is stress. Typically over worry, anger or frustration are reactions to being under constant stress. Worry directly injures the spleen and anger or frustration injures the liver which has a close relationship with the spleen. Just think about how your digestive system might feel a little off when under periods of stress in your life. The final factor is constitutional or genetic. Each person is born with a certain amount of yin energy in their body and as this yin declines it can damage the liver and kidney system, leading down the road of excess phlegm dampness. Regardless of the factor, Chinese medicine, like western medicine, believe that improper dietary choices are the major pre-disposing factor for high cholesterol and hyperlipidemia.
Recent research into the effectiveness of acupuncture on high cholesterol levels has focused on the usage of one particular point, Stomach 40, which is well known to practitioners as a key point to remove phlegm dampness from the system. The research conducted on mice produced results that the researchers concluded could physiologically explain how acupuncture could lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In addition to this acupoint, other points located around the body are well suited to decreasing stress levels, transforming dampness, and supplementing spleen qi. A number of herbs have been found to decrease plasma VLDL and LDL as well. These include reishi mushrooms, angelica root, and notoginseng.
As a practicing acupuncturist, I never recommend that patients remove themselves from their medication without consulting their doctor first but if you are watching your diet, exercising, limiting your stress levels and are still not seeing results from your medication, then acupuncture might be an option for you. In addition, many people taking medication have cholesterol levels within acceptable ranges due to the medication itself. If they were to come off the medication, the levels could potentially spike back up. This is a little more of a touchy subject for me as a practitioner. I recommend that patients commit to a treatment plan and dietary changes geared towards decreasing their cholesterol to levels below those produced by medication alone and then speak with their physician about decreasing their dosage. Of course, it is important to remember that you are also getting other health benefits from the acupuncture beyond just the cholesterol lowering capabilities.
So if you are concerned about the potential for high cholesterol or are tired to having to take medication everyday for it, you can have control over your condition. With a diet mainly based on vegetables and whole foods and regular acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatments, you just might be able to decrease your cholesterol numbers.