Many factors can contribute to elevated blood cholesterol levels. Some of these factors are controllable. Others are not.
The main uncontrollable factor is genetics, which can – at least to some extent – determine cholesterol levels. One genetic condition is called familial hypercholesterolemia; in this situation, a mutation on chromosome 19 reduces the body’s ability to filter LDL cholesterol out of the blood. Cholesterol levels can also be affected by seemingly unrelated conditions, including diabetes, hypothyroidism, kidney disease, and others.
But some causes of high cholesterol – particularly lifestyle-related ones – are controllable. A lack of exercise, a person’s weight, and a high-fat diet can all lead to elevated blood cholesterol levels. Even for those with genetic predispositions to high cholesterol levels, lifestyle changes can be effective in reducing cholesterol levels and increasing overall quality of life. In some cases, medication may also be necessary to address hypercholesterolemia.
Current scientific evidence suggests that vitamins and minerals alone will not significantly lower cholesterol levels. However, a growing number of studies show a positive correlation between fish oil supplementation and reduced triglycerides, so concerned individuals may want to discuss use of a fish oil product with their doctor.
There are a lot of foods that can reduce Cholesterol Levels
Different foods lower cholesterol in various ways. Some deliver soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they get into circulation. Some give you polyunsaturated fats, which directly lower LDL. And some contain plant sterols and stanols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol.
1. Oats. An easy first step to lowering your cholesterol is having a bowl of oatmeal or cold oat-based cereal like Cheerios for breakfast. It gives you 1 to 2 grams of soluble fiber. Add a banana or some strawberries for another half-gram. Current nutrition guidelines recommend getting 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day, with at least 5 to 10 grams coming from soluble fiber. (The average American gets about half that amount.)
2. Barley and other whole grains. Like oats and oat bran, barley and other whole grains can help lower the risk of heart disease, mainly via the soluble fiber they deliver.
3. Beans. Beans are especially rich in soluble fiber. They also take a while for the body to digest, meaning you feel full for longer after a meal. That’s one reason beans are a useful food for folks trying to lose weight. With so many choices — from navy and kidney beans to lentils, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, and beyond — and so many ways to prepare them, beans are a very versatile food.
4. Eggplant and okra. These two low-calorie vegetables are good sources of soluble fiber.
5. Nuts. A bushel of studies shows that eating almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and other nuts is good for the heart. Eating 2 ounces of nuts a day can slightly lower LDL, on the order of 5%. Nuts have additional nutrients that protect the heart in other ways.
6. Vegetable oils. Using liquid vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower, safflower, and others in place of butter, lard, or shortening when cooking or at the table helps lower LDL.
7. Apples, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits. These fruits are rich in pectin, a type of soluble fiber that lowers LDL.
8. Foods fortified with sterols and stanols. Sterols and stanols extracted from plants gum up the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol from food. Companies are adding them to foods ranging from margarine and granola bars to orange juice and chocolate. They’re also available as supplements. Getting 2 grams of plant sterols or stanols a day can lower LDL cholesterol by about 10%.
9. Soy. Eating soybeans and foods made from them, like tofu and soy milk, was once touted as a powerful way to lower cholesterol. Analyses show that the effect is more modest — consuming 25 grams of soy protein a day (10 ounces of tofu or 2 1/2 cups of soy milk) can lower LDL by 5% to 6%.
10. Fatty fish. Eating fish two or three times a week can lower LDL in two ways: by replacing meat, which has LDL-boosting saturated fats, and by delivering LDL-lowering omega-3 fats. Omega-3s reduce triglycerides in the bloodstream and also protect the heart by helping prevent the onset of abnormal heart rhythms.
11. Fiber supplements. Supplements offer the least appealing way to get soluble fiber. Two teaspoons a day of psyllium, which is found in Metamucil and other bulk-forming laxatives, provide about 4 grams of soluble fiber.
The supplements that can reduce Cholesterol Levels
If you’re worried about your cholesterol level and have started exercising and eating healthier foods, you might wonder if taking a cholesterol-lowering supplement can help reduce your numbers. Although few natural products are known to improve cholesterol levels, some might be helpful.
With your doctor’s OK, consider these cholesterol-improving supplements and products.
|Cholesterol-lowering supplement||What it might do||Side effects and drug interactions|
|Artichoke extract||May reduce total cholesterol and (LDL, cholesterol||May cause gas or an allergic reaction, especially in those who are allergic to ragweed|
|Barley||May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol||Generally well-tolerated; might cause an allergic reaction|
|Blond psyllium (found in seed husk and products such as Metamucil)||May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol||May cause gas, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation or nausea; can reduce absorption of some nutrients, such as iron|
|Fish oil (found as a liquid oil and in oil-filled capsules)||May reduce triglycerides||May cause a fishy aftertaste, bad breath, gas, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; may interact with some blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven)|
|Flaxseed, ground||May reduce LDL cholesterol||May cause gas, bloating or diarrhea; may interact with some blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix) and warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven)|
|Green tea or green tea extract||May lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides||May cause nausea, vomiting, gas or diarrhea; may interact with blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven)|
|Niacin||May lower LDL cholesterol and improve HDL||May cause headache, nausea, vomiting, itching and flushing, which are more common at prescription levels|
|Oat bran (found in oatmeal and whole oats)||May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol||May cause gas or bloating|
|Plant stanols, lecithin-emulsified (found in some products, such as Minute Maid Heart Wise orange juice and Rice Dream Heartwise Rice Drink)||May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol||May cause diarrhea|
|Plant sterols (found in oral supplements and some margarines, such as Promise Activ)||May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol||May cause nausea, indigestion, gas, diarrhea or constipation|
|Soy protein (found in soy milk, tofu, textured soy protein) as a substitute for other high-fat protein sources||May reduce LDL||May cause constipation, diarrhea, bloating, nausea and allergic reactions|
What is not good for reducing Cholesterol Levels ?
Red yeast rice might be dangerous
Another popular cholesterol-lowering supplement is red yeast rice. There is some evidence that red yeast rice can help lower your LDL cholesterol. However, the Food and Drug Administration has warned that red yeast rice products could contain a naturally occurring form of the prescription medication known as lovastatin.
Lovastatin in red yeast rice products is potentially dangerous because there’s no way to know how much lovastatin might be in a particular product. And there’s no way to determine the quality of the lovastatin.
Garlic might be ineffective
Garlic is one of the best-known supplements for reducing cholesterol. Earlier studies on garlic produced conflicting results, but some indicated that garlic might lower cholesterol. However, more recent research has shown no evidence of cholesterol-lowering benefits.
Medications might be necessary
Sometimes, despite making healthy lifestyle choices and taking supplements and using other cholesterol-lowering products, you still need help lowering your cholesterol levels. If your doctor prescribes medication to reduce your cholesterol, take it as directed while continuing to focus on a healthy lifestyle.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you decide to take a supplement. The supplement you choose might interact with other medications you take.