Statin is the standard treatment for hypercholesterolemia. Hypercholesterolemia is a sub condition of dyslipidemia, an imbalance of lipids in the blood that is marked by elevated levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or triglycerides. While a saturated fat-rich diet is the most common cause, genetics can also play a role such as in a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia. This condition is a major factor contributing to fats buildup within the vessel wall (atherosclerosis). It narrows the vessel lumen and restricts blood flow, causing tissue damage in the distal part of the narrowing. Hence, risks of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), strokes, and peripheral artery disease are increased.
If the condition is mild or slightly moderate, health practitioners will firstly ask patients to change their lifestyle and diet and manage their body weight. If done correctly, most hypercholesterolemia patients do not even need pharmaceutical agents. These steps are important to manage hypercholesterolemia or dyslipidemia in general:
- Regular exercise and weight management
- Diet change to foods with high unsaturated fat and low saturated/trans fat such as white meats, nuts and seeds
- Avoidance of red meats and their derivatives
- Avoidance of sugar-rich foods
- Reduction of salt consumption
- Reduction of alcohol intake
Pharmaceutical drugs currently in use in hypercholesterolemia
Unfortunately, many patients with hypercholesterolemia are struggling to adhere to the changes of their body causing permanent changes that cannot be reversed with lifestyle modification. Here is when pharmaceutical-based therapies are usually introduced to manage the condition and avoid the unwanted complications. The most used treatment of hypercholesterolemia is inhibitors of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA inhibitors), or statins. Statins are often combined with other lipid-reducing drugs such as fibrates and niacin.
However, almost all drugs available for treating hypercholesterolemia are known to have numerous side effects. These include constipation, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort or cramps, muscle pain, and weakness. More serious adverse events have also been reported such as gout, high blood sugar, and facial or neck flushing. These side effects can be more prominent when a combination of two drugs or more is used. Moreover, the efficacy of these drugs may be reduced if the patient has other comorbidities.
The first statins were actually derived from mushrooms
Nowadays, natural sources are sought to be the alternative to statins. Natural agents are expected to provide the sought cholesterol-lowering effects while at the same time not bringing side effects associated with synthetic drugs. Therefore, medicinal mushrooms are promising because, in fact, the first statins were obtained from a species of fungus, Penicillium citrinum, back in the 1970s.
Medicinal mushrooms are excellent in hypercholesterolemia therapy as they contain lovastatin, a natural statin substance that exerts similar effects to synthetic statins. Besides, these edible mushrooms offer other compounds with many health benefits such as ergosterol, beta-glucans, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds. These substances function via numerous mechanisms to lower CVD risk, lowering LDL, and lowering cholesterol level.
Medicinal mushrooms offer similar effects to statins
Several medicinal mushrooms are known for its beneficial effects in improving lipid profile and cholesterol level. Some of these are:
- Shiitake (Lentinula edodes). Study of Shiitake mushroom on its cholesterol-lowering ability can be traced to half a century back. Shiitake with its lovastatin content supports healthy blood pressure and maintains good cholesterol levels. It has shown activity in lowering blood cholesterol in both animal and human studies.
- Maitake (Grifola frondosa). This species contains various compounds that are able to regulate fat and lipid levels in the blood. Maitake can reduce high cholesterol and manage triglycerides levels. In two separate studies, Maitake was able to reduce plasma cholesterol level and exert a lipid-lowering effect.
- Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). Studies on Reishi showed that Reishi can improve levels of cholesterol and manage blood sugar level. Some compounds found in Reishi such as oxygenated lanosterol derivatives can inhibit cholesterol synthesis. Ganoderic acids inside Reishi are also able to inhibit cholesterol formation by competing with oxidosqualene cyclase in the last stage of cholesterol synthesis in the same pathway that statins exert their effects in.
Medicinal mushrooms are proven scientifically to be safe and effective in treating hypercholesterolemia. As they provide similar effects to synthetic statins, medicinal mushrooms are a promising and natural alternative to statins. Combined with lifestyle changes, diet selection, and weight management, medicinal mushroom supplements can work in synergy to reduce lipid levels and minimize the risks of developing further complications associated with hypercholesterolemia.