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Got High Cholesterol? Are Chinese Herbs A Viable Alternative to Statins?

Here’s a Chinese medicine riddle: if a problem doesn’t exist, can it be treated? Take for instance high cholesterol. There’s no mention of this condition in ancient TCM literature. So if you want to support your cholesterol levels, can TCM help or not?

One of the most famous text in traditional Chinese medicine, the “Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine” doesn’t mention it. And neither does “Master Hua’s Classic of the Central Viscera.” Same goes for another classic on TCM, the “Compendium of Materia Medica.”

In fact, no classic TCM reference mentions high cholesterol as a medical problem.

So does that mean high cholesterol is not a problem in Chinese medicine?

After all, without doubt, it is in western medicine. There’s no denying that having abnormally high accumulation of cholesterol deposits in the blood and arteries increases your chance for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

However, TCM doesn’t necessarily view high cholesterol as a disease. Rather, it’s symptomatic of a dysfunction of the metabolic pathway.

Specifically, it’s an accumulation of dampness and phlegm. And this accumulation is the result of weakness in certain Zang fu organs. Most notably, Spleen, Stomach, and Liver.

Although in ancient times high cholesterol was not a diagnosis as it is today in western medicine, it’s possible that centuries ago, TCM students and teachers, while conducting dissections or autopsies noticed a white, waxy substance in blood vessels. This natural substance found in the body is cholesterol.

And more conjecture here … in analyzing post-mortem blood vessels, perhaps the students and TCM doctor/teachers noticed more of this white, waxy buildup in some cadavers compared to others?….

Is Cholesterol Bad?

But cholesterol is not in itself an evil substance it’s made out to be. In fact, from a western perspective, it’s a precursor to several hormones. Without it, we wouldn’t have testosterone to help build lean muscle tissue and provide a healthy libido. Cholesterol also gives structure to cell membranes. Our cells would be more vulnerable to oxidation and structural damage without enough of it.

TCM doesn’t necessarily view high cholesterol as a disease, rather, it’s symptomatic of a dysfunction of the metabolic pathway

Moreover, some natural health experts view cholesterol as a repair substance that responds to inflammation in the body.

Nonetheless, an estimated 20 million people take statin drugs. Statin drugs limit the amount of cholesterol naturally produced by the liver.

TCM root causes of high cholesterol

Before discussing TCM herbs for cholesterol support, let’s talk a little about why, from a TCM perspective, someone may have elevated levels of serum (blood) lipids.

Even in ancient times, a well-known predictor of health was diet. It was common knowledge that eating a diet rich in fried and/or fatty foods (and not getting enough movement) can lead to health problems.

According to TCM theory, the root cause of excess cholesterol in the blood is dysfunction of the Spleen and Liver organ systems.

Spleen in TCM is the primary digestive organ system. It transforms the food you eat into usable energy. But if you’re eating lots of fast food and highly-processed food, your Spleen won’t have the proper building blocks (nutrients) to produce healthy levels of Qi and blood.

Poor Diet, Not Enough Exercise = PHLEGM

The liver naturally produces cholesterol. But if someone has too much Yang energy in the liver, it could cause the liver to operate in hyperdrive, producing excess cholesterol.

This cholesterol has to go somewhere. And if diet is poor and not enough exercise breaks up the cholesterol deposits, this can potentially lead to the build-up mentioned above in the arterial walls.

Many health concerns, from a TCM perspective, can be attributed to excess internal dampness. Excess cholesterol in the blood fits this pattern. Internal dampness can produce phlegm. Not the phlegm you may automatically think of with bad colds, but internal phlegm from an excess of fatty tissue.

Internal dampness stems from blood stasis. Think of blood stasis as when your blood, instead of flowing like a free-flowing river, instead, is stagnant like a swamp.

Support Cholesterol with TCM Herbs

The good news for those looking for natural solutions to support cholesterol–for people that already have normal cholesterol levels–there are Chinese herbs. These herbs may support blood circulation and normal cholesterol metabolism.


Salvia Root (Dan Shen), Notoginseng Root (San Qi), and Astragalus (Huang Qi) are three of the most commonly-prescribed TCM herbs for cholesterol support. Another one is Hawthorn berry, which in TCM removes food retention in the stomach, and disperses blood stasis.

Our signature formula, CholestAssure, contains 10 herbs that drain internal dampness, thereby resolving excess phlegm.

For more information on our TCM formulas for cholesterol- and circulation support please click here.