written by: Dr. Kristie Leong
• edited by: Diana Cooper
• updated: 4/13/2011
Are there ways to lower your cholesterol level without medications? Find out about high cholesterol natural remedies - and which ones work.
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Doctors sometimes prescribe prescription medications to help lower cholesterol levels, but not everyone wants to deal with their side effects. Plus, there are people with borderline high cholesterol levels who need to bring their cholesterol level down slightly but aren’t candidates for medications. Are there high cholesterol natural remedies that work?
There are natural remedies that will lower cholesterol levels, but they work best for people who have mild elevations in cholesterol level. Using natural remedies, you can expect to reduce your cholesterol level by about 10 percent through dietary changes - and up to 25 percent using a supplement such as red yeast rice. For people with very high cholesterol levels, natural remedies may not be enough – but they can still offer benefits for some people.
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High Cholesterol Remedies – The Power of Diet
You can lower your cholesterol level by as much as 10 percent by simply changing your diet. Adding more soluble fiber to your diet is one way to bring high cholesterol levels down. Soluble fiber, such as those found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains bind to cholesterol in the intestinal tract so that it’s excreted from the body rather than reabsorbed. Most Americans fall short of the 20 to 30 grams of recommended daily fiber.
Another way to lower high cholesterol levels naturally is to change the type of fats you eat. In terms of cholesterol levels, there are “good" fats and “bad" fats. Bad fats that raise cholesterol levels are saturated fats found in animal products such as full-fat meat and dairy foods. Good fats are polyunsaturated fats in fatty fish (such as tuna and salmon) and walnuts. Other good fats that lower LDL cholesterol are monounsaturated fats found in nuts and seeds.
Eating a mostly plant-based diet is another way to bring down high cholesterol levels. According to a study looking at the health effects of vegetarian and vegan diets in Spain, vegetarians enjoy lower cholesterol levels than their meat-eating counterparts. Replacing meat with soy protein has benefits too. One study discussed on Medscape.com showed that getting 25 grams of soy protein a day lowers cholesterol levels by as much as 9 percent. Fortunately, there are a variety of soy-based products available these days including tempeh, tofu, miso and soymilk – and they taste great if you prepare them creatively. There are lots of soy cookbooks to give you guidance.
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Other High Cholesterol Remedies
At one time, studies showed that red yeast rice was as effective as statin medications for lowering high cholesterol levels, but it’s since been reformulated, because the FDA found it contained lovastatin - the ingredient in the prescription cholesterol medication Mevacor. The newer formulations contain variable levels of cholesterol-lowering compounds called monacolins, so some formulations may give better results than others for lowering cholesterol. On the down side, some of the brands that were tested contained a compound that’s toxic to the kidney called citrinin. If you take this, do it under a doctor’s care so your kidney and liver function can be monitored.
Some herbs and spices show potential as natural remedies for high cholesterol including ginger, turmeric, artichoke leaf extract and fenugreek, but there isn’t enough research to be assured of their benefits. Garlic was once thought to decrease cholesterol levels, but the latest studies have been disappointing. Vitamin B3 or niacin also lowers cholesterol levels at high doses, but it’s best to take it under a doctor’s care. It can cause skin flushing and itching as well as other side effects
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The Bottom Line
Changing your diet by eating more fiber and healthy fats – and less animal fat is a safe, proven way to lower high cholesterol levels. Before using other high cholesterol natural remedies such as red yeast rice, talk to your doctor.
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Keyal, T., P. Applebya, and M.S. Rosell. "Health Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets." Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 65(2007): 35-41.