Cholesterol-Lowering Supplements: What Works, What Doesn't

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If youre looking for an all-natural way to lower your cholesterol–in addition to watching what you eat and exercising–there are plenty of dietary supplements on the market that claim to do the trick. Each year seems to bring a new alternative remedy–garlic, ginseng, or red yeast rice, for example–that users tout as the next best thing to get cholesterol under control.

But just because your Uncle Jack says a supplement worked miracles on his cholesterol doesnt mean it will work for you. In fact, his success may be due to a placebo effect or a diet overhaul he neglected to mention.

Though not always perfect, scientific studies are the best way to determine if nonprescription remedies really work. Below, we break down what the research does–and doesnt–say about the benefits of the most popular alternative remedies for lowering cholesterol.

To see what these supplements look like, view this slideshow.

Artichoke leaf extract

o What it is: The dried extract of the artichoke leaf is also known as Cynara scolymus.

o The evidence: In 2000, German researchers performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial using nearly 150 adults with total cholesterol over 280–well into what the American Heart Association (AHA) considers “high risk” territory. The participants who took an artichoke supplement for six weeks saw their levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, fall by 23%, on average, compared to just 6% in the placebo group.

These are promising numbers, but they havent been replicated. A more recent, three-month trial of similar design found that total cholesterol fell by an average of 4% among participants taking artichoke leaf extract, but the researchers found no measurable impact on either LDL or high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as good cholesterol. They suggested that differences in the health of the participants and the potency of the supplements–the patients in the second study received a dose about 30% smaller–could explain the discrepancy between the results of the two studies.

o The bottom line: There have been very few quality studies conducted on artichoke leaf extract, and the mixed results suggest that more evidence is needed to confirm its effect on cholesterol. Dont expect your LDL to plummet if you take artichoke supplements.

Fenugreek

o What it is: Fenugreek is a seed (often ground into a powder) that has been used since the days of ancient Egypt and is available in capsule form.

o The evidence: Several studies from the 1990s have reported that, in high doses, various fenugreek seed preparations can lower total cholesterol and LDL, in some cases dramatically. (One study recorded an LDL drop of 38%.) Almost without exception, however, the studies have been small and of poor quality, which casts some doubt on the validity of the results.

Fenugreek contains a significant amount of dietary fiber (anywhere from 20% to 50%, analyses have shown), and some experts speculate that the purported cholesterol-lowering effect of fenugreek may in fact be attributed largely to its fiber content.

o The bottom line: Despite the studies frequently cited as proof of fenugreeks ability to lower cholesterol, there is not enough evidence to support its use.

Fiber

o What it is: Soluble fiber is a type of dietary fiber found in oats, barley, bran, peas, and citrus fruits, as well as in dietary supplements. (Though it is good for the heart in other ways, insoluble fiber does not affect blood cholesterol.)

o The evidence: In 1999, a team of Harvard Medical School researchers conducted a meta-analysis of nearly 70 clinical trials that examined the effect of soluble fiber on cholesterol levels. High soluble fiber intake was associated with reductions in both LDL and total cholesterol in 60% to 70% of the studies they examined. For each gram of soluble fiber that the participants of the various studies added to their daily diet, their LDL levels fell by about 2 points. (The average time frame was seven weeks.)

The amount of fiber youd need to eat to significantly lower your LDL is a bit unwieldy. Most people eat far less than the 25 grams of dietary fiber recommended as a minimum by most health organizations–and only about 20% of your total fiber intake is likely to be soluble. (Eating three bowls of oatmeal a day will only yield about 3 grams of soluble fiber, according to the Harvard researchers.) Taking daily fiber supplements can help, but they can cause some gastrointestinal side effects if taken regularly and can interfere with some prescription medications.

o The bottom line: A diet high in soluble fiber can lower your LDL. The effect is likely to be relatively modest, however, and loading up on soluble fiber may be impractical.

http://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20295990,00.html

America’s Healthiest Pets

Ask any of Americas hundred-million-plus pet owners if their animal companions make life a little sweeter, and youre bound to hear a gleeful purr. Our critters make us so happy that, in return for their company, we willingly scoop poop, clean cages, shell out for organic kibble, and stock an arsenal of supplies to help cope with all that hair.

We clearly think theyre worth it–and maybe they truly are. A wealth of studies suggests that pets are good for your health, sometimes in unexpected ways. The right pet can lower your risk for heart disease, curb stress, and even sniff out serious illnesses. In fact, the more attached you are to your pet, the stronger its protective health benefits may be.

Of course, not all pets are created equal. Some, in fact, are dangerous. So we asked three animal authorities to dig into the research and cough up (sorry, we couldnt resist) Americas Healthiest Pets. Read on to see if your “best friend” is on our list of six winners.

1. Dogs

The scientific findings are full of good news for the nearly 40% of us who own dogs; that number includes President Obama, who recently made good on a family campaign promise to his daughters and adopted an allergy-friendly Portuguese Water Dog.

“The breadth and depth of what dogs do to benefit humans happiness and longevity is pretty remarkable,” says judge Marty Becker, DVM, author of The Healing Power of Pets. Studies link dog ownership to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. And dog owners seem to live longer after a heart attack and get more exercise than nonowners. Youre more likely to stroll with a dog than solo, and Fido may even beat your best girlfriend as a motivating force: Unlike humans, dogs never need an arm-twisting to take a brisk walk.

Then theres the mood-boosting benefit. “Simply petting a dog is like a spa treatment,” Dr. Becker says. “After just a minute or two you have this massive release of positive neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin. And the dog gets the same relief.” Add to that the role canines play as service companions and the striking ways that theyre contributing to medicine–from detecting cancer to predicting epileptic seizures–and theres really no argument (except from cantankerous cat people) that mans (and womans!) best friend is aptly nicknamed.

What kind of dog is best? Dr. Becker especially sings the praises of small, mixed-breed shelter pups. Small is good because “you can take the dog with you and fully integrate her into the fabric of your life,” he says.

Sadly, despite the chatter about the First Familys search for a hypoallergenic dog, no breed is truly allergy-proof, says judge Gregg Takashima, DVM, board chair for the Delta Society, a nonprofit organization that helps connect people with service and therapy animals. Dander–tiny flakes of animal skin–is the true source of trouble.

But because pet hair may also play some role, breeds that dont shed much, like poodles or poodle mixes (labradoodles, golden-doodles, and so forth), and the Portuguese water dog (the Obamas choice), are better bets for some people with allergies. Another tip to reduce allergic reactions: Bathe your pet once a week with a nonsoap shampoo thats perfume and additive-free, Dr. Takashima says.

But if doggie upkeep just isnt for you? Piggyback on the health perks of dogs by spending time with their owners. Join your neighbor on her daily walk with her pup, and her benefit is yours, too.

http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20411765,00.html

What Can You Make With Brown Rice?

Three star chefs get creative with this healthy grain.

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America’s Healthiest Pets

Ask any of Americas hundred-million-plus pet owners if their animal companions make life a little sweeter, and youre bound to hear a gleeful purr. Our critters make us so happy that, in return for their company, we willingly scoop poop, clean cages, shell out for organic kibble, and stock an arsenal of supplies to help cope with all that hair.

We clearly think theyre worth it–and maybe they truly are. A wealth of studies suggests that pets are good for your health, sometimes in unexpected ways. The right pet can lower your risk for heart disease, curb stress, and even sniff out serious illnesses. In fact, the more attached you are to your pet, the stronger its protective health benefits may be.

Of course, not all pets are created equal. Some, in fact, are dangerous. So we asked three animal authorities to dig into the research and cough up (sorry, we couldnt resist) Americas Healthiest Pets. Read on to see if your “best friend” is on our list of six winners.

1. Dogs

The scientific findings are full of good news for the nearly 40% of us who own dogs; that number includes President Obama, who recently made good on a family campaign promise to his daughters and adopted an allergy-friendly Portuguese Water Dog.

“The breadth and depth of what dogs do to benefit humans happiness and longevity is pretty remarkable,” says judge Marty Becker, DVM, author of The Healing Power of Pets. Studies link dog ownership to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. And dog owners seem to live longer after a heart attack and get more exercise than nonowners. Youre more likely to stroll with a dog than solo, and Fido may even beat your best girlfriend as a motivating force: Unlike humans, dogs never need an arm-twisting to take a brisk walk.

Then theres the mood-boosting benefit. “Simply petting a dog is like a spa treatment,” Dr. Becker says. “After just a minute or two you have this massive release of positive neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin. And the dog gets the same relief.” Add to that the role canines play as service companions and the striking ways that theyre contributing to medicine–from detecting cancer to predicting epileptic seizures–and theres really no argument (except from cantankerous cat people) that mans (and womans!) best friend is aptly nicknamed.

What kind of dog is best? Dr. Becker especially sings the praises of small, mixed-breed shelter pups. Small is good because “you can take the dog with you and fully integrate her into the fabric of your life,” he says.

Sadly, despite the chatter about the First Familys search for a hypoallergenic dog, no breed is truly allergy-proof, says judge Gregg Takashima, DVM, board chair for the Delta Society, a nonprofit organization that helps connect people with service and therapy animals. Dander–tiny flakes of animal skin–is the true source of trouble.

But because pet hair may also play some role, breeds that dont shed much, like poodles or poodle mixes (labradoodles, golden-doodles, and so forth), and the Portuguese water dog (the Obamas choice), are better bets for some people with allergies. Another tip to reduce allergic reactions: Bathe your pet once a week with a nonsoap shampoo thats perfume and additive-free, Dr. Takashima says.

But if doggie upkeep just isnt for you? Piggyback on the health perks of dogs by spending time with their owners. Join your neighbor on her daily walk with her pup, and her benefit is yours, too.

http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20411765,00.html

How My Pet Helped Me Heal

Adriene Hughes calls her boyfriend’s dog, Peso, her little “sleep assistant.” While she was undergoing chemotherapy, he would sleep in the crook of her waist as she napped. “Just the sheer presence of his body next to mine would be enough to make me feel as if I was not alone,” she says.

Pet owners know that their pets improve mood, but now studies are showing pets’ power to heal. Recent research has linked dogs and cats to health benefits such as higher survival rates after illness, fewer visits to the doctor, and better physical and psychological well-being among the elderly.

“We’ve always known that pets make us feel good. We just didn’t know they were good for us. Now we’ve gone from experiencing it to having a body of evidence,” says Marty Becker, a veterinary contributor to Good Morning America and author of The Healing Power of Pets. Here are seven stories of how pets helped in the healing process.

Next: Suky’s “penetrating stare”

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http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20307147,00.html

How My Pet Helped Me Heal

Adriene Hughes calls her boyfriend’s dog, Peso, her little “sleep assistant.” While she was undergoing chemotherapy, he would sleep in the crook of her waist as she napped. “Just the sheer presence of his body next to mine would be enough to make me feel as if I was not alone,” she says.

Pet owners know that their pets improve mood, but now studies are showing pets’ power to heal. Recent research has linked dogs and cats to health benefits such as higher survival rates after illness, fewer visits to the doctor, and better physical and psychological well-being among the elderly.

“We’ve always known that pets make us feel good. We just didn’t know they were good for us. Now we’ve gone from experiencing it to having a body of evidence,” says Marty Becker, a veterinary contributor to Good Morning America and author of The Healing Power of Pets. Here are seven stories of how pets helped in the healing process.

Next: Suky’s “penetrating stare”

» View All

Get the latest health, fitness, anti-aging, and nutrition news, plus special offers, insights and updates from Health.com!

http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20307147,00.html

Best and Worst Foods To Eat When You’re Sick

A symptom-by-symptom guide to the eats that will soothe (or strengthen) your symptoms.

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When you’re under the weather the last thing you want is to eat something that makes you feel worse. But what if the last thing you want is chicken soup or crackers, and you’re craving ice cream or a glass of wine? It depends on what’s wrong with you, experts say. Here are common symptoms and expert suggestions on foods that help–and hinder–relief.

Next: You’ve got the runs

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11 Signs You’re Sleep Deprived

People’s needs vary when it comes to sleep. But what if your lack of shut eye is hurting your health?

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by Rachel Swalin

You know you’re supposed to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but sometimes, you stay up for a night out on the town, to finish a project at work, or even just to watch Law Order reruns. We get it–we’ve all been there, and a late night here and there won’t have any lasting effects beyond the fatigue you feel the next day. It’s when you skimp on sleep night after night that it becomes a real problem. Though you may think your five-hours-a-night habit is nothing to worry about, chronic sleep deprivation has been tied to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Read on for subtle signs your body needs more time in bed.

Next: You’re always hungry

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11 Superfoods That Work Better Together

These health-boosting food pairings make nutritious foods even better for you.

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by Rachel Swalin

Peanut butter and jelly. Soup and salad. Spaghetti and meatballs. There are a few classic pairings that will never go out of style. But some food duos do more than just excite your taste buds–they could even boost your health. It’s a concept called “food synergy.” While eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods is key for helping your body stay healthy, the idea is that some foods can interact in ways to provide even more value. So stick to eating your favorite superfoods, but know that serving these 11 combos could pack a more powerful punch of nutrition.

Next: Black beans + red bell pepper

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