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High cholesterol levels, particularly bad cholesterol (a.k.a. low-density lipoprotein), can put you at risk of cardiovascular diseases. Apart from cholesterol-lowering drugs prescribed by your physician, you can help reduce cholesterol by changing your diet, managing your weight, quitting smoking, and other lifestyle adjustments. Read on to learn more about how to lower your cholesterol naturally.
Tip: Not sure if your cholesterol is above the charts? Read our guide on detecting high cholesterol warning signs. Or consider taking a comprehensive lipid profile blood test to get a clear overview of your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Change Your Diet
Cholesterol comes primarily from food sources and is processed by your liver. There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein or LDL (dubbed as bad cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein or HDL (good cholesterol).
When changing your diet, you need to go for foods that can reduce LDL cholesterol and those that increase HDL cholesterol. This is because excessive LDL can lead to plaque buildup in the arterial wall, causing stroke or heart disease. Meanwhile, HDL absorbs LDL and brings it back to the liver to be excreted from the body.
The following are some of the foods to consider and avoid when changing your diet for cholesterol reduction.
Foods that can lower cholesterol
- High-fiber foods: oats, barley, beans, lentils, fruits, and vegetables
One of the most effective ways to lower cholesterol is by consuming high-fiber foods. Soluble fiber, in particular, has been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
- Healthy fats: fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, avocados, olive oil, and nuts
Contrary to popular belief, not all fats are bad for you. Adding healthy fats to your diet can actually lower cholesterol levels. Foods high in monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats can increase HDL while reducing LDL.
- Plant sterols and stanols: fortified margarine, yogurts, and orange juice
These are compounds naturally found in plants and have been shown to have the potential to lower LDL. They block the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines.
Worst foods for high cholesterol
- Processed and fried foods: potato chips, French fries, fried chicken, etc.
When it comes to high cholesterol, these are among the biggest culprits. These foods contain unhealthy fats, like saturated fats and trans fats, which raise LDL cholesterol.
- Red meat: fatty cuts of beef, pork, lamb, venison, goat, veal, and mutton
Despite being a great source of protein, red meat should be consumed in moderation as it contains high saturated fats, increasing your LDL.
- Full-fat dairy products: milk, cheese, and butter
These products often have excessive saturated fats. Consider low-fat or fat-free versions if you want to reduce your LDL cholesterol.
- Sugary and high-fat desserts: foods with butter, cream, and hydrogenated oils
High-fat and sugary desserts may be tempting, but they can wreck your cholesterol levels. That said, choose fresh fruit or homemade treats made with healthier fats, like avocado or coconut oil, instead of sugary treats to manage your blood lipids well.
- Exercise at Least 2x a Week
Exercise directly affects cholesterol levels by increasing HDL cholesterol production. However, in order to reap the cholesterol-reducing benefits of exercise, you need to engage in some physical activity on a regular basis.
For example, do strength training exercises at least twice weekly to ensure healthy heart functions. In addition, ensure you’re doing at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity with moderate intensity or 75 minutes if done vigorously, as recommended by the American Heart Association.
- Do Weight Management Right
It’s not surprising that drastic weight gain directly correlates with increased cholesterol levels. Weight gain is generally associated with excess consumption of calories that the liver processes to produce cholesterol. The surplus in cholesterol, in the form of LDL, is then circulated in the bloodstream and deposited in the arterial walls.
While many people often consider diet alteration and restriction, along with increased physical activity, as surefire ways to reduce weight, when cholesterol levels come into play, you have to consider other factors like your metabolism and underlying health issues.
Therefore, consider working with a nutritionist and acquiring baseline data about your health through a weight loss profile blood test.
- Give Up Smoking
The nicotine in tobacco products can drastically impact your cholesterol levels. Hence, it’s best to consider quitting and employ proper withdrawal management.
When you smoke, the harmful chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your blood vessels, causing inflammation. This inflammation triggers your body’s natural defense mechanism, leading to the release of certain chemicals that can increase the production of LDL cholesterol.
Additionally, smoking reduces the efficiency of your liver in removing LDL cholesterol from your bloodstream, further contributing to the buildup of this harmful cholesterol. Plus, smoking diminishes the production of HDL cholesterol, making it difficult for your body to effectively remove the LDL cholesterol from your arteries.
- Drink Alcohol in Moderation
If you consume alcoholic beverages frequently, it’s high time to start cutting back if you wish to reduce your cholesterol levels. You can choose to eliminate the lifestyle altogether, but that’s going to be another conversation you’ll have with yourself and your doctor.
As far as lipid profile goes, keeping it in moderation can be a strong choice. Not only does it prevent the production of high LDL, but it also promotes HDL, which can be beneficial for heart health. On top of that, excessive alcohol intake damages the liver, affecting its function in cholesterol production.
According to the American Heart Association, moderate alcohol consumption means you limit alcohol to one to two drinks a day for men and not more than one drink for women. However, keep in mind that this could also vary based on your health profile and cardiovascular risk factors. Hence, consult your doctor for more accurate limitations.
- Manage Your Stress Well
Chronic stress has long been associated with lipid levels. In fact, a 2017 study involving general workers subjected to varying psychological and physical stress suggested the role of psychological stress in the development of lipid disorders.
Other studies also present the same idea. For example, in a study involving 90,000 respondents. It was identified that those who reported high levels of stress at work also had a higher risk of having an increased level of LDL or bad cholesterol.
The mechanism behind the relationship between stress and high cholesterol levels can be traced to the production of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone released when the body experiences stress, triggering the fight or flight response. In doing so, rapid activation of lipids takes place, which leads to elevated cholesterol levels.
Did You Know? You don’t need to rely on discernable symptoms to understand that you’re stressed. A cortisol blood test can help reveal your stress level, providing better context on its implication to your health, including recommended steps on how to lower cholesterol via personalized stress management.
Seeking Medical Attention
While the lifestyle changes involved in steps for how to lower cholesterol significantly aid in achieving the goal, there are cases wherein you’ll have to work closely with your primary care physician.
For example, if you’re at risk or have been diagnosed with other cardiovascular problems, you’ll likely need more immediate medical attention. In this case, aside from the natural ways of reducing cholesterol, you’ll require a drug prescription to manage cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs like statin medications are some of the common treatments. However, keep in mind that these types of medications require proper doctor assessment, wherein your LDL cholesterol levels are measured, and your risks for cardiovascular diseases are evaluated.
Other blood tests to assess the cause of high cholesterol in the blood or hypercholesterolemia may be necessary. While many lifestyle choices influence cholesterol levels, there are genetic factors that can also trigger the condition – clinically referred to as familial hypercholesterolemia.
It’s important to understand that the best course of action to ensure you lower your cholesterol effectively is to consult your doctor. If you have taken an online cholesterol blood test, make sure to seek medical guidance to know the proper treatment that suits your need.
The Importance of Monitoring Your Cholesterol Level
There are several reasons why it is essential to regularly monitor your cholesterol levels. Firstly, it lets you know your risk of heart disease. If you identify high cholesterol early on, you can make lifestyle changes and maybe even seek medical intervention.
Secondly, monitoring your cholesterol levels lets you see how well any interventions worked. Whether you’re changing your lifestyle or taking medication, monitoring lets you know if your efforts are paying off.
Finally, knowing your cholesterol numbers can keep you motivated to make healthy choices and live a heart-healthy life.
Measuring your cholesterol levels
A lipid profile is typically used to measure your cholesterol levels. When taking the test, you’ll be asked to provide a small blood sample. A phlebotomist takes the sample from a vein in your arm and analyzes your lipid levels. The results of the lipid profile will provide information about your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
Keep in mind that cardiovascular health is not solely determined by cholesterol levels. Factors like blood pressure and family history should be considered as well. Consult with your healthcare provider to learn the best way to monitor your cholesterol levels and assess your overall cardiovascular risk.
Frequently Asked Questions
What reduces cholesterol quickly?
Aside from taking cholesterol-lowering drugs as prescribed by your primary care provider, lifestyle changes can also help reduce cholesterol fast. By becoming selective in your diet, eliminating cholesterol sources, and favoring foods that promote HDL, along with becoming more active, you can keep your cholesterol within healthy levels.
Is peanut butter good or bad for cholesterol?
Studies show that peanut butter can help lower cholesterol, making it a recommended snack. Peanut butter has monounsaturated fats, which increase HDL or good cholesterol while reducing LDL or bad cholesterol. Plus, it also contains other nutrients that prevent inflammation and promote bone health. Still, keep your peanut butter consumption in moderation, within 1-2 tablespoons a day, to avoid other health issues like unwanted health gain.
Does drinking apple cider vinegar help lower cholesterol?
Studies regarding the impact of apple cider vinegar on lowering cholesterol have mixed results. While most studies suggest that apple cider vinegar can help in weight loss and cholesterol management, there are others that present inadequate or opposing data. Hence, before trying this fad, talk to your doctor first.
The Bottom Line
The steps involved in reducing cholesterol are essentially the same actions you need to consistently undertake to ensure your general health and wellness. Meaning you can get far more benefits as soon as you mark your day 1 of changing your diet, exercising, managing stress, etc. But aside from employing these steps, make sure to monitor your cholesterol levels regularly as well. Doing so will help you maintain optimum cardiovascular health.