Meanwhile, HDL is commonly known as “good cholesterol” as high levels of it can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, says CDC. “HDL carries LDL (bad) cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where the LDL is broken down and passed from the body,” notes AHA. “But HDL cholesterol doesn’t completely eliminate LDL cholesterol. Only one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL,” it adds.
A high LDL level or low HDL level combined with high levels of triglycerides (a type of fat that stores excess calories from food and provides energy to your body) is linked with fatty buildups within the arterial walls, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, states AHA.
The Hidden Health Saboteur
What makes high cholesterol more concerning is that it’s a sneaky health hazard that typically has no visible symptoms.
“The only outwardly visible signs of very high cholesterol are fatty cholesterol deposits called xanthelasmas, usually on the eyelids or around the eyes,” says Dr. Steven Gundry, cardiothoracic surgeon and author of New York Times bestseller, The Plant Paradox.
So, it’s important to get your cholesterol levels checked regularly, ideally every four to six years.
“People with cardiovascular disease, and those at elevated risk, may need their cholesterol and other risk factors assessed more often,” notes AHA.
Five Proven Tips For Lowering Cholesterol Naturally
While certain risk factors like family history, gender and age can’t be controlled, incorporating heart-healthy habits into your everyday life may help keep those numbers in a healthy range. This is because your cholesterol levels are heavily influenced by your lifestyle, especially what you eat, says Dr. Klodas.
Here are five ways to naturally lower your cholesterol, specifically LDL levels, according to heart specialists:
- Load up on fiber. “Fiber from whole plant-based foods helps bind bile in the digestive system which serves as a natural elimination pathway for LDL,” says Dr. Klodas. The AHA recommends consuming 25-30 grams of dietary fiber from whole foods per day. Some of the best natural sources of fiber include avocado, apple, berries, Brussels sprouts, dates, whole grains like oats and barley, nuts and seeds.
- Add phytosterols to your diet. “Sterols (natural compounds found in plants) compete with bile cholesterol for reabsorption, thus helping lower LDL,” says Dr. Klodas. According to the National Lipid Association (NLA), eating at least two grams of plant sterols per day may lower your LDL-C by 5 to 10%. Foods like spinach, kale, carrot, olive oil, sweet potato, strawberry and sunflower seeds are all good sources of phytosterols.
- Stick with unsaturated fats. LDL is removed from the bloodstream through LDL receptors that are found primarily in the liver. “The more LDL receptors there are and the more active they are, the more efficient the LDL removal process—leading to lower LDL levels,” says Dr. Klodas. Saturated fats (fats that are solid at room temperature) like those found in fatty cuts of meat, butter, lard, cheese and coconut oil downregulate LDL receptors, leading to high circulating LDL, explains the board-certified cardiologist. Favoring unsaturated fats (fats that are liquid at room temperature) instead can upregulate these receptors which will consequently help lower your LDL levels, she adds. Some of the best sources of heart-healthy unsaturated fats include avocado, olive oil, peanut butter, walnut, almond, oily fish, sunflower oil, sesame seeds and flax seeds.
- Ditch simple carbs. Avoiding highly processed carbohydrates and added sugars is important as these foods elevate insulin levels, which in turn, stimulates HMG-CoA reductase (an enzyme in the liver), says Dr. Klodas. “When HMG-CoA reductase is revved up, LDL production surges,” explains the cardiologist. So try to limit your intake of ultra-processed foods like frozen pizza, chips, white bread, processed desserts like cookies, cakes and donuts, refined white pasta and highly processed meats like bacon, sausage and hot dogs.
- Manage your triglyceride levels. “Triglycerides are the first form of fat formed from sugars and starches,” says Dr. Gundry. A high level of triglycerides (200 mg/dL and above) is a risk factor for heart disease. Ideally, you should aim to keep your triglycerides below 100 mg/dL. Healthy lifestyle tweaks like getting more exercise, cutting back on alcohol, quitting smoking and eliminating trans fats may help lower both triglyceride and LDL levels markedly.
Note: As each human body is unique, it’s recommended to speak with your healthcare provider first about your current health status before making any lifestyle changes—to ensure that they are tailored to your specific health profile.