Which Herbs Are Good for Cholesterol, Blood Sugar and Healthy , Arteries?
Answered by: Robert Newman, L.Ac.
Question from: No Name Given
Posted on: June 08, 2004

What herbs are good to take for cholesterol? Also what herbs are good for blood sugar and to stop the arteries to your heart from coating? I am currently taking red yeast rice for my cholesterol; I am not into taking what the doctors prescribe because of the side affects affiliated with those medicines. Please let me know about a herb that I may be able to take -- I had a triple by-pass 3 years ago, but not a heart attack: just a triple by-pass, and my husband has 2 stents. I also would like to know if you have a program to follow for a diet and if there are maybe some herbs to help us to control our appetities. We are both in our 50’s -- any help would be greatly appreciated.

Before I list some Chinese herbs which could be considered for addressing high cholesterol and high blood sugar, and also helping to keep the arteries to the heart in better condition, I would like to mention something about picking herbs to simpy treat a particular symptom or two. In a wholistic medicine approach such as acupuncture and oriental medicine (AOM), we see each person as an individual and do in-depth and very detailed interviews and exams to make an accurate diagnosis of each person within our system of medicine. We believe that you cannot separate the patient from his illness or from his symptoms, so looking at just one simple part of the patient (such as his cholesterol or his arthritis, etc.), disconnected from the other signs and symptoms that are present and disconnected from the person’s constitutional strengths and weaknesses, can lead to many possible problems. I mention this because it is not as likely to get the best effect, and can occasionally even be risky or unsafe, to prescribe herbs on the basis of a symptom or two that is generalized and common to many people. This is how side-effects are produced. I will mention here that, in actuality, there are no such things as "side-effects," but rather there is a whole range of effects that any one substance can produce in someone’s system. If one is aware and knowledgeable about all (or at least most) of the properties and functions of a substance and how it affects the body, mind and spirit and one matches as many of those properties and functions to a totality of issues and the constitutional make-up of the patient as closely as possible, one will get the least amount of "side-effects" and the greatest and deepest level of therapeutic benefit. It is simply a matter of trying to utilize ALL of the effects that a substance commonly produces and matching those effects as closely as one can with as many of the patient’s needs as is possible.

Additionally, many of the responses to a particular herb’s actions will be similar between a large number of people who take it, but everyone IS different, so there will also be variations in the degree of the response and sometimes even in the exact specifics of the response -- no one person’s response will be exactly the same as anyone else’s. This is another reason to work at being as individualized and specific as possible with the herbs that one will choose to treat someone. Furthermore, combining wisely-chosen herbs into a full-fledged formula can also be more likely to produce the best results with the least problems. What I’m getting at here is that it is probably wiser to consult with a trained and qualified practitioner, whenever possible, before pursuing a course of herbs.

Diet and lifestyle are important factors as well, of course. I would recommend staying away from: deep fried foods and excessively or repeatedly heated oils (as what is done often in some restaurants), greasy/rich/very oily foods, hydrogenated oils, margarine, old oils (as in mayonaisse, pre-made salad dressings, etc.), and I would suggest staying with cold-pressed oils -- preferably olive oil in a dark container or possibly sesame or peanut oil. Staying away from wheat as much as possible (with wheat flour products being the worst, such as bread, pasta, pastries, pancakes, waffles, etc.) and having whole cooked grains like rice, millet, barley, oats, etc. instead would be better. The less sugar, sweets, desserts and sodas, the better -- a little fruit, in season, is fine. Have a side dish of vegetables with both lunch and dinner (and even breakfast, if you like: the Chinese regularly have rice porridge with vegetables for breakfast, for example), trying to vary the choices so that you get a good variety of vegetables. Also, have no more than a small amount of salad -- best is to lightly steam or quickly saute the vegetables rather than eating a lot of raw ones: the Chinese feel that raw vegetables are very cooling in their nature (this is why people tend to gravitate to eating more of them during the summer when the weather is hotter). The foundation for the integrity and function of the digestive process and its associated enzymes can be compared to that of a fire or furnace -- it is this heat or energy that goes into creating the enzymes and it is that same energy that is released from the enzymes when they are acting on our food and which is necessary to break down the bonds in those foods into usable substances. Consequently, the cooling property of raw vegetables and fruits (and also, of any foods and liquids which are cold in temperature, e.g. ice cream, cold sodas, etc.) can end up weakening the digestive system if they are eaten too much and/or too often and can lead to what is known in AOM as damp and possibly phlegm. For more about the importance of the digestive system and issues involving damp and phlegm, see my answers to the questions, "Does Red Yeast Rice Really Lower Cholesterol?" and "Korean Ginseng and Some Advice About Weight Loss Herbs" also on Richter’s Q & A website page. Having lean cuts of animal foods (chicken, beef, turkey, etc.) and fish is fine, but not eating huge portions of these at a meal is important. Have little or no coffee, and this applies equally to decaf or regular coffee. I’m not a big fan of dairy. Goat’s milk products would be better than comparable cow’s milk products. Also, hard dairy products such as cheese -- the worst being harder cheeses -- are less desirable. If you must have dairy products, it would be better to have non-fat products and stay with softer ones like non-fat yogurt or non-fat cottage cheese.

Regarding lifestyle changes, it is best to go to bed earlier rather than later -- preferably not later than 10:30-11:00 pm. Also, it is better to not eat too late, having dinner usually no later than 7 or 7:30 pm and having nothing or very little light food between dinner and bedtime. Some people think it’s better to skip meals or basically starve themselves, but that is not wise. It is much smarter and healthier to eat three regular meals or a number of frequent smaller but regular meals -- eating this way keeps one’s blood sugar levels more healthy and balanced and eating at generally similar times each day improves the function of one’s digestive system. One’s body begins to expect and be more ready to eat at these times when a pattern is established, with digestive juices and enzymes being more readily produced and secreted at these times when the body gets into a regular schedule. Additionally, eating a somewhat lighter meal at dinner time is generally more beneficial since one’s body is slowing down at night and it is considered important to demand less from the system energetically during the evening. Of course, it’s important to do regular moderate cardiovascular exercise -- walking, biking, swimming -- and if possible, also practices which involve more meditative methods and development of one’s internal energy, such as yoga, tai ji quan ("tie gee chew-en") and qi gong ("chee gohng"). Meditation, in general, can be very helpful for one’s overall health as well.

Chinese herbs that have been discovered to be fairly useful for lowering cholesterol levels include the red yeast rice (Hong Qu, Monascus purpureus, "hohng choo") you are taking (for more information about an AOM perspective in using red yeast rice and addressing high cholesterol, see my answer to the question about red yeast rice on Richters Q & A section for Chinese herbs), as well as Shan Zha, Fructus Crataegus pinnatifida ("shawn jaw," Hawthorn berries; this herb is also good for helping to keep the circulation in the arteries to the heart more free-flowing and for helping with obesity -- if there is some problem with acid reflux or stomach ulcers, it may be better to avoid this or use only a little since it is sour and can increase gastric secretions) and Jue Ming Zi, Semen Cassia tora/obtusifolia ("joo-way ming zih," Chinese/Sickleleaf Cassia seeds -- this can also be considered for use in treating obesity, but if there’s a tendency for very soft or loose stools, best to avoid this or use very little since the seeds have a lot of oils in them that lubricate the intestines). One formula that some patients have traditionally had some success with is a simple formula of 4 herbs: Shan Zha, 9-12 grams; Jue Ming Zi, 9-12 grams; Ju Hua, Flos Chrysanthemum morifolium ("joo hwah," Chrysanthemum flowers), 9 grams; Jin Yin Hua, Flos Lonicera japonica ("gin yin hwah," Honeysuckle flowers), 9 grams. One of the best ways to use this formula is to take the above 4 herbs in the listed doses and put them into a medium-size bowl -- this is one day’s worth of herbs to use. Pour 1-1 1/2 cups of boiling hot water over these herbs in the bowl, cover the bowl with a plate and let the herbs steep (infuse) until the tea is just slightly warm. Drink this completely in one sitting. Do this same process 4-5 times in one day (so you can use this herb tea as if it were a beverage tea that you drink a number of times a day). After using that dose of herbs for one day, throw that batch of herbs out and repeat the process with a new batch of those herbs the next day. Do this for 2-3 months. Another, possibly more convenient way to do this (if you won’t be at home during much of the day) is to put those herbs into a thermos and just pour the hot water into the thermos and let them steep for 30 minutes or so and drink the tea, repeating this 4-5 times in a day and starting with a new batch of herbs at the beginning of each day. Other herbs that have demonstrated some benefit for lowering cholesterol and lipid levels include:

* Dan Shen, Radix Salvia miltiorrhiza ("dawn shen," Red Sage root--this is also a very well-known herb for helping keep the arteries to the heart clear and free)

* Suan Zao Ren, Semen Ziziphus spinosa ("swan tzoww wren," Spiny Date tree seed)

* Chai Hu, Radix Bupleurum chinensis ("chy hoo," Chinese Thorowax root)

* Mo Yao, Commiphora myrrha ("mo yoww," Myrrh gum)

* Du Zhong, Cortex Eucommia ulmoides ("doo jong," Eucommia tree bark)

* Gou Qi Zi, Fructus Lycium barbarum/L. chinense ("go chee tzih," Wolfberry/Matrimony Vine fruit)

* Nu Zhen Zi, Fructus Ligustrum lucidum ("new jen tzih," Chinese Privet fruit -- this could also be considered for treating high blood sugar problems)

* Ze Xie, Radix Alisma orientale ("tzuh shee-ay," Oriental Water Plantain root -- this could also be considered for treating obesity and high blood sugar problems)

* Lu Cha, Folium Camellia sinensis ("loo chah," Green Tea leaves -- this could also be considered for treating obesity); Wulong Cha, Folium Camellia sinensis ("woo lohng cha," Wulong Tea leaves)

* Jiao Gu Lan, Herba Gynostemma pentaphylla ("gee-oww goo lawn," Gynostemma plant)

* Zi Su Ye, Folium Perilla frutescens ("tzih soo yay," Perilla/Shiso Plant leaves -- this could also be considered for treating obesity)

* Shi Chang Pu, Rhizoma Acorus gramineus ("shih chawng poo," Grassy Sweet Flag rhizome -- this could also be considered for treating obesity)

* Yin Chen Hao, Herba Artemisia capillaris ("yin chen howw," Virgate Wormwood herb)

* Ren Shen, Radix Panax ginseng ("wren shen," Chinese Ginseng root -- this could also be considered for treating obesity and high blood sugar problems)

* Gu Sui Bu, Rhizoma Drynaria fortunei ("goo sway boo,"Fortune’s Drynaria rhizome)

* Ju Hua, Flos Chrysanthemum morifolium ("joo hwah," Chrysanthemum flowers)

* Jin Ying Zi, Fructus Rosa laevigata ("gin ying tzih," Cherokee Rose hips)

* Huai Hua Mi, Flos Sophora japonica ("hwhy hwah mee," Pagoda Tree flowers)

* Pu Huang, Pollen Typha latifolia ("poo hwahng," Cattail pollen)

* Hu Zhang, Rhizoma Polygonum cuspidatum ("hoo jahng," Japanese Giant Knotweed rhizome)

* He Shou Wu, Radix Polygonum multiflorum ("huh shoh woo," Fo-Ti/Fleeceflower Vine root)

* Jiang Huang, Rhizoma Curcuma longa ("gee-ahng hwahng," Turmeric root)

* Huang Jing, Rhizoma Polygonatum sibiricum ("hwahng jing," Siberian Solomon’s Seal rhizome -- this could also be considered for treating high blood sugar problems)

* Jin Yin Hua, Flos Lonicera japonica ("gin yin hwah," Japanese Honeysuckle flowers)

* Dong Chong Xia Cao, Cordyceps sinensis ("dohng chohng shee-ah tsoww," Chinese caterpillar fungus)

* Yu Jin, Tuber Curcuma longa ("yoo gin," Turmeric tuber)

For obesity issues, additional herbs to the ones mentioned above:

* Kun Bu, Thallus Laminaria japonica ("koon boo," Kelp thallus; this could also be considered for treating high blood sugar problems)

* Hai Zao, Herba Sargassum pallidum ("high tzoww," Sargassum seaweed)

* Zao Jiao, Fructus Gleditsia sinensis ("tzoww gee- oww," Chinese Honeylocust fruit)

* Zao Jiao Ci, Spina Gleditsia sinensis ("tzoww gee-oww tsih," Chinese Honeylocust branch/stem spines)

* He Ye, Folium Nelumbo nucifera ("huh yay," Lotus leaves) with Yi Yi Ren, Semen Coix lachryma-jobi ("ee ee wren," Job’s Tears seeds)

* Bai Zhu, Radix Atractylodes macrocephala ("buy joo," Large- headed Atractylodes root)

* Cang Zhu, Radix Atractylodes lancea ("tsawng joo," Lance-leaved Atractylodes root)

* Hou Po, Cortex Magnolia officinalis ("hoe poe," Medicinal Magnolia bark)

* Huo Xiang, Herba Pogostemon cablin ("hwoh shee-ahng," Patchouli plant)

* Sha Ren, Fructus Amomum villosum ("shah wren," Cardamon fruits)

Lowering blood sugar herbs, additional to the ones mentioned above:

* Di Gu Pi, Cortex Lycium barbarum/L. chinense radicis ("dee goo pee," Wolfberry/Matrimony Vine root bark)

* Hei Zhi Ma, Semen Sesamum indicum ("hay jih ma," Sesame seeds)

* Huang Lian, Rhizoma Coptis chinensis ("hwahng lee-en," Chinese Goldthread rhizome)

* Li Zhi He, Semen Litchi chinensis ("lee jih huh," Leechee nuts)

* Mai Ya, Fructus Hordeum vulgare germinatum ("my yah," Barley sprouts)

* Shan Yao, Radix Dioscorea opposita ("shawn yoww," Chinese Yam/Cinnamon Yam Root)

* Wu Bei Zi, Galla Rhus chinensis ("woo bay tzih," Chinese Sumac gallnut)

* Wu Mei, Fructus Prunus mume ("woo may," Smoked Plum fruit)

* Yu Mi Xu, Stylus Zea mays ("yoo mee shoe," Cornsilk)

* Jie Geng (as an alcohol extract), Radix Platycodon grandiflorus ("gee-ay gohng," Balloon Flower root)

As you can see, there are many possible herbs to choose from, so picking the best ones for your issues, your constitutions and bodies would best be determined by a trained and qualified practitioner after interviewing and examing you and your husband. For further information about finding a practitioner near you, see my answer to the question, "Who to Turn to for Expert Information on Herbs?" also on Richter’s Q & A website page. I would also suggest you ask Susan Eagle about western herbs to address the issues you have asked about here. One other herb I am aware of that can be useful for lower high blood sugar levels is from southern China and from India: Gymnema sylvestre.

Richters offers seeds, plants, extracts or dried material of some of the above-listed herbs.

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