Nothing gets your attention quite like your doctor asking you to sit down for a heart-to-heart about your cholesterol.
Regardless of the reason — high cholesterol can arise from genetics, inactivity, overweight or from eating certain foods — a high (200+) blood cholesterol reading is a possible signal of danger.
Too much cholesterol in the blood stream is linked to hardening or clogging of arteries and increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
If you want to better understand the results of your cholesterol blood test — or “lipid panel” — check out: “How to Read Your Scary Cholesterol Blood Test.”
But, even if you have received the news that your cholesterol is too high, the good news is that there are proven ways to bring it down to safe levels.
Some people find help from a popular class of drugs, statins, that lower cholesterol and reduce systemic inflammation. In many people, these drugs are extremely effective in lowering cholesterol levels.
But statins may have side effects, including muscle pain, liver damage, skin rash, higher blood sugar or even memory loss or confusion, this Mayo Clinic article says. So, many people prefer to first try changing their diet and lifestyle in ways that can naturally bring down their cholesterol levels.
Follows are nine ways to lower cholesterol naturally. Before trying these nondrug approaches, be sure to talk with your doctor and ask him or her to help you set goals:
1. Eat much better
Eat a diet that built mostly around fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), whole grains, fatty fish and sources of healthy fats. You can score your own heart disease risk with this American Heart Association tool.
Try for at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise most days to raise “good” HDL by 5 percent to 10 percent or more over about three months, says US News & World Report. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s pamphlet, Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC, has specifics.
3. Lose weight
If you’re overweight, even a modest weight loss can help reduce cholesterol levels.
4. Cut out trans fat
Eating fat helps us absorb vitamins and minerals, build cells and boost energy. Some fats are healthy but others are dangerous. Trans fat (also called “partially hydrogenated oil”), an industrially made fat, is the worst. Even small amounts raise “bad” LDL cholesterol and are linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, systemic inflammation and insulin resistance, raising the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Read food labels to spot trans fat, especially in restaurant and commercially prepared foods, snacks and baked goods.
5. Embrace healthy fats
Healthy fats are those from nuts, seeds, fish and vegetables (tip: they are liquid at room temperature):
- Monounsaturated fat, from olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocados and avocado oil, most nuts and high-oleic sunflower and safflower oil.
- Polyunsaturated fat helps lower triglyceride and bad cholesterol counts. They include corn oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil.
- Omega-3 fatty acids help prevent heart disease and stroke. They’re in (baked, poached or grilled) salmon, lake trout, sardines, herring, halibut, mackerel, albacore tuna and halibut, walnuts, canola oil, flax seeds and unhydrogenated soybean oil. (Fish oil capsules don’t provide the same benefits. “Eat fish instead,” says Healthbeat, another Harvard Medical School newsletter.)
- Omega-6 fatty acids and linoleic acids, also important, are in oils from corn, safflower, sunflower, soybeans and walnuts.