Is it possible to lower cholesterol quickly?
A few key changes in diet and lifestyle can help a person lower their cholesterol naturally with time. There is no instant fix, but some people may notice changes in a matter of weeks.
In some cases, a person may need medication to help lower their cholesterol or control other risk factors.
However, even if a person is taking medication, it is still important for them to make changes to help improve their cholesterol levels and reduce their risk of side effects.
What is cholesterol?
In the body, the liver makes cholesterol, which is a waxy substance. Cholesterol molecules circulate in the blood.
The liver makes all the cholesterol that the body needs, so a person does not need to consume cholesterol in their diet.
Cholesterol itself is not bad. Blood cholesterol plays an important role in helping build cells.
Other sources of cholesterol come from the diet. Dietary cholesterol is present only in foods derived from animals, such as meat and fat-rich dairy products.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that experts recommend eating as little dietary cholesterol as possible.
This is because adding more dietary sources of cholesterol adds more of this compound to the body and bloodstream, which increases a person’s cholesterol levels.
Measuring blood cholesterol levels
When measuring cholesterol levels, doctors will assess four markers in a person’s blood:
– Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: The “bad” cholesterol. A lower LDL number may be a good indicator of health and lower risk of disease.
– High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: The beneficial cholesterol. Low HDL cholesterol may be a risk factor for other issues, and a higher HDL number may indicate health.
– Blood triglycerides: A common type of fat in the blood. Higher levels may mean that a person has an increased risk of some issues, especially when they also have other risk factors, such as low HDL cholesterol.
– Total cholesterol: This number takes into account the levels of blood triglycerides and LDL and HDL cholesterol.
Doctors will use all of these numbers within the context of a person’s overall health and other risk factors to determine their risk of heart disease and stroke.
Why lower cholesterol?
High cholesterol plays a role in worsening heart health.
As more cholesterol circulates in the blood, it may be harder for the heart to pump this blood properly. This cholesterol can also contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries, raising the risk of atherosclerosis.
High cholesterol puts a person at risk of heart disease, as well as heart attack and stroke.
How to lower cholesterol
A person looking to lower their cholesterol levels quickly can follow a few basic health principles.
These include getting regular exercise and focusing on a diet rich in plant foods and low in refined foods and some types of fats.
Cholesterol has a lot to do with what a person eats. For that reason, a healthful diet is one of the first things that doctors recommend for people who want to lower their cholesterol quickly.
The following dietary changes may help a person reduce their cholesterol as quickly as possible.
Eliminate trans fats
Trans fats lower the levels of beneficial cholesterol and raise the levels of unhealthful cholesterol.
Some dietary trans fats occur naturally in foods such as milk and meat products.
Other trans fats come from manufacturing processes. Food companies create them by adding hydrogen to certain fats to make them more solid.
Possible sources of trans fats include meat and dairy products, packaged hydrogenated oils, and fried foods from fast-food restaurants.
Reduce saturated fats
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and may not be healthful in large amounts.
Eating large amounts of saturated fat raises levels of LDL cholesterol. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend limiting saturated fat intake to 5–6% of daily calories.
Sources of saturated fat include meat and dairy products, such as cheese, butter, and milk, as well as vegetable oils, such as palm and coconut oil.
Add more plant foods
A cholesterol-lowering diet involves eating a wide variety of plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and seeds.
Adding a variety of plant foods to the diet helps ensure that the body gets the various nutrients and vitamins it needs to operate properly.
Plant foods are also free of cholesterol, so they will not contribute to cholesterol levels in the body.
In addition, plant foods contain nutrients that may reduce other risk factors for heart disease, such as antioxidants and some types of fiber.
Increase fiber intake
Plants are the only source of fiber in the diet. Fiber is an important factor for digestive health, which may also affect other risk factors, such as high cholesterol.
The AHA estimate that a diet high in fiber alone can help lower cholesterol levels by as much as 10%.
Eating more plant foods will naturally increase fiber intake. People who need extra fiber may consider taking a fiber supplement to help them reach their daily needs.
Increase plant protein sources
Introducing variety into the diet may help people manage some risk factors for heart disease.
Many people get their protein mainly from animal sources. However, it may help for them to include plant protein sources in their diet too.
A number of vegetable foods that contain substantial amounts of protein include:
– beans and legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils, and peas
– grains, such as rice, quinoa, and amaranth
– tree nuts, such as almonds and cashews
– seeds, including pumpkin, sunflower, and hemp seeds
Adding plant-based proteins to the diet can help the body meet its protein needs without adding cholesterol.
Eat less refined food
It is best to avoid refined food whenever possible.
Refined and packaged foods tend to have ingredients that make them shelf-stable while also giving them a desirable flavor.
These foods often include ingredients that a person should avoid when they are looking to reduce their cholesterol.
Among the ingredients to avoid are refined grains, added trans and saturated fats, and added sugars.
Several lifestyle factors can affect a person’s cholesterol levels. Some people may find that making certain changes to their lifestyle helps lower their cholesterol.
Exercise plays a key role in cardiovascular health and healthful cholesterol levels.
The AHA note that just 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week helps reduce cholesterol and other risk factors, such as high blood pressure.
To achieve this, a person needs to do a 30-minute activity that gets the heart rate up on 5 days of the week. These activities may include:
– brisk walking
movement and dance classes
Smoking affects many aspects of good health. For people with high cholesterol, smoking decreases the levels of beneficial cholesterol in the body.
A study published in Biomarker Research found that people who quit smoking had a rapid increase in their HDL cholesterol. This is an important sign of overall cholesterol health.
Reaching or maintaining a moderate weight may also lower disease risk factors in people with obesity. It may help people lower their levels of LDL cholesterol and raise their levels of HDL cholesterol.
The AHA note that a weight loss of 10% of a person’s total body weight can help improve their cholesterol numbers.
Medications are an important tool for those who have dangerously high cholesterol levels and may be at risk of an event such as heart failure or stroke.
Statins are the standard medication for most people. Statin drugs reduce cholesterol and lower the risk of heart attack or stroke from high cholesterol.
Depending on a person’s individual risk factors, doctors may recommend other drugs, such as:
– PCSK9 inhibitors
– selective cholesterol absorption inhibitors
– drugs to lower blood fats
Even with medication, it is still important to focus on making dietary and lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol.
High cholesterol is a risk factor for serious events, such as heart failure and stroke.
A person can make a number of dietary and lifestyle changes to help lower their cholesterol as quickly as possible.
These changes include eating a varied diet rich in plants, avoiding saturated and trans fats, and getting regular exercise.
People who have severely high cholesterol may require medications to keep their cholesterol in check.
However, they should still prioritize making dietary and lifestyle changes to promote healthful cholesterol levels.
A person should work with a doctor to decide on the right plan of action for them and make lasting changes to keep their cholesterol down.