It’s normal to feel a bit anxious after learning you have high cholesterol. Common concerns include the health risks of high cholesterol, medication costs, and side effects. And with so many classes of medications for cholesterol to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start.
But there may be some easy changes in the foods you eat and choices you make that can help. Natural ways to lower your cholesterol might help to decrease how much medication you need to take.
Natural ways to lower cholesterol
Lowering your cholesterol naturally may feel like a daunting task. But there are small steps you can take to make it more manageable. Here are 10 natural ways that can help you start to lower your cholesterol today.
1. Increase your fiber intake
Dietary fiber comes in both soluble and insoluble forms and is an important part of a healthy diet. Adding over 10 grams of soluble fiber to your diet can help to decrease your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels. LDL is often called “bad cholesterol” because it increases your risk of heart disease.
Fiber works on LDL in two ways. When you eat foods high in fat or cholesterol, dietary fiber works like a sponge. It helps to absorb the cholesterol, keeping levels in the bloodstream at bay. But soluble fiber also works to lower cholesterol even when you eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. It helps to prevent blood sugar spikes that trigger your body to make more cholesterol.
Some common sources of soluble fiber include:
- Fruits (apple, pears, oranges)
Fiber also decreases your risk of heart disease. This is true with both soluble and insoluble forms of fiber.
2. Adopt a plant-based diet
A plant-based diet can help to lower cholesterol. This is a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. The effect of plant-based diets on cholesterol is best seen with LDL cholesterol. That’s because you don’t get the saturated fats from meats, dairy, and other animal products, which tend to increase LDL levels.
Plant-based foods are high in unsaturated fats, fiber, and plant proteins. These help to support lower cholesterol levels. A plant-based diet will usually include foods like:
- Vegetable oils
- Nut butters
- Leafy vegetables
Both aerobic exercise and resistance training can improve your cholesterol. The amount of benefit appears to be dependent on the intensity of the exercise. Moderate-intensity to high-intensity exercise lowers LDL levels. But it also improves HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels. HDL is often called “good cholesterol” because it helps to remove other cholesterol from the body. So it’s better to have higher levels of HDL. Exercise is a natural way to raise your HDL.
Experts recommend people to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. Or you could strive for at least 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise each week. This level of exercise may give you major gains in your HDL. One study found that moderate aerobic exercise 3 times a week for 40 minutes increased HDL cholesterol by over 10%.
Some common forms of aerobic exercise include:
- Jumping rope
- Playing tennis
Experts recommend moderate-intensity to high-intensity resistance training at least twice per week. This includes strength training by lifting weights, body weight exercises, or resistance bands.
4. Increase omega-3 intake
Omega-3 fatty acids have the greatest impact on triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood that can also raise your risk of heart disease. At doses of 4 grams per day, omega-3 fatty acids can decrease triglyceride levels by up to 30%. Omega-3 can come in the form of supplements, prescription, or from your diet. Omega-3 rich foods you can add to your diet include:
- Fatty fish
- Plant oils
The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish at least twice per week. Examples of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids are:
- Black cod
5. Weight management
Having overweight or obesity can raise your risk for high cholesterol. But that risk is reversible. Even modest amounts of weight loss can have a huge effect on your cholesterol levels. Losing just 5% of your body weight can lead to a notable decrease in LDL and triglycerides.
6. Limit alcohol intake
Alcohol can affect cholesterol in two ways. The effect it has depends on how much and how often you drink. With minimal to moderate intake, alcohol can raise your HDL. This is why alcohol is sometimes thought to be protective against heart disease. But drinking more than moderate levels of alcohol can actually increase triglycerides.
The science isn’t entirely clear on how much alcohol causes more risk for your cholesterol than benefit. But experts recommend that women have no more than 1 drink per day and men have no more than 2.
7. Stop smoking
Along with other health effects, smoking can increase your cholesterol. Smoking affects cholesterol in two ways. It lowers HDL cholesterol and also raises LDL cholesterol. Once you stop smoking, this effect is highly reversible. In fact, HDL levels can rise in as little as 3 weeks after quitting smoking.
Breaking a smoking habit can be tough. Tools that some people find helpful include:
- Nicotine replacement
- Online support groups
8. Decrease stress
There’s evidence that stress increases both LDL and triglycerides. The rise in cholesterol isn’t just a response to long-term stress. It also appears that there are rapid changes in cholesterol due to short-term stress. Some easy and helpful ways to decrease stress are:
- Staying active
- Practicing mindfulness
- Eating a balanced diet
- Using relaxation techniques
- Getting enough sleep
9. Take supplements
Some dietary supplements are useful in improving cholesterol. They can help boost the cholesterol-lowering effect of a healthy diet and exercise. Common supplements that may help lower your cholesterol include:
- Stanol and sterol
In some cases, supplements can have similar effects as medication. This is especially true for red yeast rice. This supplement can have the same active ingredient as lovastatin. It can also have the same side effects. Discuss any supplements you plan to take with your healthcare provider to be sure it’s safe for you to do so.
10. Drink green tea
There’s evidence that green tea decreases both LDL and total cholesterol. It may work because of the flavonoids in green tea. These compounds may prevent the body from making cholesterol and improve absorption. Research shows that 375 mg of green tea per day may lower LDL cholesterol by over 15%.
You can consume green tea as a drink or a dietary supplement. The recommendation is to drink no more than 6 to 8 cups per day. Although it’s safe for most people, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before adding green tea to your diet.
What is the fastest way to lower cholesterol without medication?
Many of the natural ways to lower cholesterol work quickly. But changes like weight management and lowering stress may take a while. But the benefits of working toward these goals are almost immediate. Adding resistance training to your routine can lower your cholesterol within 6 weeks. Omega-3 fatty acids can improve triglycerides in as little as 4 weeks. Dietary changes and exercise work better to lower cholesterol together than alone.