Natural ways to lower cholesterol
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), unhealthful lifestyle choices are the leading cause of high cholesterol. However, genetics, certain medical conditions, and medications can also contribute to high cholesterol.
Having high cholesterol does not cause symptoms, but it can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Doctors can prescribe statins to help lower a person’s cholesterol levels, but these medications can cause side effects, such as headaches, muscle cramps, and nausea.
In this article, we explore some natural ways to lower cholesterol without medication. We also discuss what cholesterol is and why high levels can be harmful.
Avoid trans fats
Trans unsaturated fatty acids, which people commonly refer to as trans fats, are unsaturated vegetable fats that have undergone an industrial process called hydrogenation, which makes them solid at room temperature. Food manufacturers use trans fats because they are relatively inexpensive and long-lasting.
Sources of trans fats include:
- vegetable shortening
- partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
- fried foods
- certain processed and prepackaged foods
Bacteria in the stomachs of cows, sheep, and goats produce natural trans fats. Cheese, milk, and other dairy products may contain modest amounts of natural trans fats.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), consuming trans fats can negatively affect a person’s health in two different ways:
- they can raise blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or “bad cholesterol”
- they can reduce blood levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or “good cholesterol”
LDL cholesterol can accumulate in the arteries and increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.
According to a 2019 review, low levels of HDL cholesterol are common in people with type 2 diabetes, which increases their risk of heart disease. The authors suggest that treatment should focus on lowering LDL cholesterol levels to reduce this risk.
In a 2017 study, researchers used cell cultures to show that a trans fat called elaidic acid had toxic effects in neuron-like cells. Elaidic acid led to cell death and increased markers of oxidative stress.
Consume fewer saturated fats
Saturated fats generally stay solid at room temperature whereas unsaturated fats are usually liquid.
Dietary sources of saturated fats include:
- red meat
- chicken with the skin on
- cheese and other dairy products
- cooking oils, such as palm oil and coconut oil
The AHA recommend that saturated fat should only represent about 5–6% of a person’s daily calorie intake.
A diet high in saturated fats may raise a person’s LDL cholesterol levels. Excess LDL cholesterol can accumulate and form hard deposits in the arteries, which may lead to a condition called atherosclerosis.
A 2018 study examined how different dietary fats affected blood levels of cholesterol. The 4-week study involved 96 healthy adults who consumed 50 grams (g) daily of either:
- extra virgin coconut oil
- extra virgin olive oil
Coconut oil and butter predominately contain saturated fat, whereas olive oil contains mostly monounsaturated fat.
According to the results, the participants who consumed butter had significantly higher levels of LDL cholesterol than those in the coconut oil and olive oil groups.
The study also showed that different types of saturated fat can vary in their effects on cholesterol levels. For example, coconut oil significantly increased the participants’ levels of HDL cholesterol whereas butter significantly raised LDL cholesterol levels.
However, a 2015 systematic review did not find a direct association between saturated fat intake and risk of death, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes.
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