Hi Sandra, my most recent cholesterol test came back high and my doctor has given me three months to undertake lifestyle changes before recommending medication. He also mentioned my blood sugar was higher than previous tests. What do you recommend to rectify this as quickly as possible? Thanks, Mark.

Hi Mark, thanks for your question. It's great that you're embracing lifestyle changes as a first step to restoring optimal cholesterol and blood sugar levels. High cholesterol, elevated blood sugar and central abdominal weight gain often occur together and are early risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

A diet rich in fresh whole foods including plenty of vegetables and regular exercise should be the foundation of your lifestyle change. Most people know they need to eat well and exercise, and lots do. However, there are many complex mechanisms at play and if certain body systems aren't performing optimally, consistently eating well can feel like an impossible task as sugar and carbohydrate cravings sabotage best intentions.

If you have begun to eat well and exercise regularly but are not seeing weight loss and significant changes to blood sugar or cholesterol levels, then I suggest using medicinal plants to support the key organs and systems involved in managing these blood markers.

Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) is a South American herb with a long history of traditional use in curbing hunger and managing weight. Clinical studies show it favourably alters cholesterol (lowering LDL and increasing HDL) and reduces rapid swings in blood sugar levels and insulin that lead to snacking. It contains naturally occurring caffeine, theobromine and theophylline that stimulate the metabolism and help break down stored fat, as well as saponins which restrict intestinal absorption of dietary fat and cholesterol accumulation.

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Another excellent plant for reducing both cholesterol and blood sugar levels is Olive leaf (Olea europaea). The Mediterranean diet, rich in olive products, is known for its beneficial effects on the heart and longevity. The constituent responsible is oleuropein, which has an impressible array of health benefits including antioxidant and anti-atherogenic effects (reduces adhesion of fatty materials to the artery walls). It can also reduce dietary carbohydrate absorption in the gut, aiding blood glucose regulation.

Other key plants to enhance and speed progress would be the liver supporting herbs Globe Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) and Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinalis). The liver is a key organ in cholesterol management, responsible for its production, regulating levels in the blood and preparing for its excretion. Dietary cholesterol is responsible for only 20 per cent of total cholesterol - the liver makes the other 80 per cent. Both Dandelion and Globe Artichoke work directly on the liver and gallbladder to break down and metabolise fat and accumulated toxins, as well as supporting healthy bowel movements. In some cases liver support is all that is required to shift stubbornly elevated cholesterol. Clinical trials support this.

The well-known spice cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) also deserves special mention. It makes an easy addition to meals and drinks, and can be used medically to lower blood glucose, triglycerides and cholesterol levels in diabetic and pre-diabetic people.

Many of these herbs can be combined in either a medicinal tea or oral liquids to suit the individual. If taking as a medicinal tea, I would recommend three cups daily between meals to help curb cravings and regulate blood glucose levels. For the desired reduction in cholesterol levels, take regularly for three to six months in combination with healthy eating and exercise.

If the condition persists or does not improve, see your leading healthcare professional.

June is Men's Health Month, an international awareness month that aims to raise the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment. Supported by the not-for-profit Men's Health Trust, the theme for men's health month 2016 is #MenStartTalking. Visit www.menshealthmonth.co.nz for more information.
ReferencesDe Morais, E. C., Stefanuto, A., Klein, G. A., Boaventura, B. C. B., De Andrade, F., Wazlawik, E., . . . da Silva, E. L. (2009). Consumption of yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) improves serum lipid parameters in healthy dyslipidemic subjects and provides an additional LDL-cholesterol reduction in individuals on statin therapy. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 57(18), 8316-8324.

Ahmadvand, H., Noori, A., Dehnoo, M. G., Bagheri, S., & Cheraghi, R. A. (2014). Hypoglycemic, hypolipidemic and antiatherogenic effects of oleuropein in alloxan-induced Type 1 diabetic rats. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease, 4, Supplement 1(0), S421-S425. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S2222-1808(14)60481-3

de Bock, M., Derraik, J. G., Brennan, C. M., Biggs, J. B., Morgan, P. E., Hodgkinson, S. C., . . . Cutfield, W. S. (2013). Olive (Olea europaea L.) leaf polyphenols improve insulin sensitivity in middle- aged overweight men: a randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial. PLoS One, 8(3), e57622. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057622

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Rondanelli, M., Giacosa, A., Opizzi, A., Faliva, M. A., Sala, P., Perna, S., . . . Bombardelli, E. (2013). Beneficial effects of artichoke leaf extract supplementation on increasing HDL-cholesterol in subjects with primary mild hypercholesterolaemia: a double-blind, randomized, placebo- controlled trial. Int J Food Sci Nutr, 64(1), 7-15. doi: 10.3109/09637486.2012.700920

Akilen, R., Tsiami, A., Devendra, D., & Robinson, N. (2012). Cinnamon in glycaemic control: Systematic review and meta analysis. Clinical Nutrition, 31(5), 609-615. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2012.04.003