Graham Beaton BHSc, ND
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality amongst Canadians, accounting for approximately 30% of deaths in Canada. Despite advancements in medical treatments, deaths from cardiovascular disease (including heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, and heart failure) are expected to rise in the coming years due to increases in sedentary lifestyles, obesity and diabetes. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease. Today, approximately 40% of adult Canadians have elevated cholesterol, leaving them at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Cholesterol – What is it?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is produced in our bodies and in the bodies of animals. It is an essential component required for many functions, including making and repairing cell membranes, producing hormones, and making vitamin D. While cholesterol is vital for health, having levels that are too high can have negative consequences. Specifically, when cholesterol levels are high, fatty deposits may develop in the walls of arteries, causing them to narrow and harden. This may disrupt normal blood flow, preventing tissues from getting the oxygen and other nutrients they need.

Cholesterol is transported in the blood using carrier proteins, specifically low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to cells of the body that require cholesterol for cellular growth and repair, and to glands that require it for hormone production. While LDL is required for healthy normal function, having too much of it results in cholesterol being deposited in the walls of arteries, affecting blood flow and increasing one’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Thus, LDL is known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol.

In contrast, HDL is known as the ‘good’ cholesterol, as it picks up cholesterol from peripheral tissues and transports it back to the liver for processing or disposal. Furthermore, HDL particles have several different enzymes and protein components that further help to reduce cardiovascular risk by facilitating triglyceride metabolism (a type of fat found in circulation that increases cardiovascular disease risk), reducing oxidative damage, reducing coagulation and inflammation, etc.

Recently, it has been questioned if increasing one’s HDL levels reduces one’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Several large studies (including three pharmaceutical trials in which a drug was given to increase participants’ HDL levels and one genetic study looking at individuals with naturally high HDL levels) have shown that risk of cardiovascular disease does not decrease with high levels of HDL. This finding challenges long standing beliefs about the benefits of HDL cholesterol and suggests that increasing one’s levels of HDL does not necessarily reduce one’s risk. Researchers are now looking to explain these finding by examining if all HDL particles, defined by their size, nature of their protein and enzyme composition, are equally valuable.

While further study is required to determine the influence of increasing HDL levels, low HDL levels remain a significant risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease even in individuals who have low LDL levels.

Cholesterol – What is the test and who should be tested?
A simple blood test, called a lipid panel or a lipid profile, is required to assess cholesterol levels. This test reports total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Men aged 40 and older and women aged 50 and older are recommended to have their cholesterol levels checked yearly. More frequent tests may be necessary depending on one’s cholesterol levels and if one is at increased risk of heart disease.

Cholesterol – Prevention and Treatment
The Canadian Cardiovascular Society currently recommends that individuals with elevated cholesterol levels who are at low to moderate risk of developing cardiovascular disease implement dietary and lifestyle modifications prior to starting medications. Medications along with dietary and lifestyle changes are advised for individuals at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease with elevated cholesterol levels.

As a naturopathic doctor, I work with individuals to assess their risk of developing cardiovascular disease. After assessing risk, my patients and I work together to lower and maintain their cholesterol levels and improve cardiovascular health. I create individualized diet plans that reduce the intake of unhealthy fats, sodium and simple sugars, as well as increase the intake of healthy fats and fiber. In addition, I work with patients to implement lifestyle changes, including plans to increase exercise, achieve a healthy weight, reduce stress, moderate alcohol consumption and stop smoking.

Graham Beaton is the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine practicing at Ottawa Collaborative Care Centres – 102 Lewis Street, Ottawa Ontario. If you have questions about cholesterol, cardiovascular disease or how Naturopathic Medicine can help you, please call Graham at 613-290-6115 or visit