How (And Why) To Lower Your Cholesterol Naturally
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Cyrus Khambatta, PhD
Why Is High Cholesterol A Problem?
Many people suffer from high cholesterol. In fact, it's one of the most common metabolic conditions that people around the world suffer from.
But why is high cholesterol such a problem? And why should you be concerned about how to lower cholesterol naturally?
High cholesterol is a problem because it drastically increases your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
This happens because when your cholesterol is high up it can lead to atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of plaques, fats, and cholesterol, and other substances on the walls of your arteries.
In turn, these buildups restrict or block blood flow, causing all sorts of issues with your cardiovascular system.
So, What's the Solution?
In this article, we’ll explain how you can lower your high cholesterol naturally. First we’ll discuss the signs, causes, and symptoms of high cholesterol and how you can check them. Then, we’ll go into some key habits that can help you lower your high cholesterol without medication.
Table of Contents
How Often Should You Test Your Cholesterol?
According to the experts, most healthy adults should get their cholesterol checked at least every 4 to 6 years.
However, for overweight individuals and people with a family history of type 2 diabetes or heart disease, these checkups should be more frequent, in the range of every 2 years or so.
This way, you can catch high cholesterol and work towards lower cholesterol levels before they become an issue.
What Is Considered High Cholesterol? (Understanding HDL vs. LDL and Total Cholesterol)
A general rule of thumb is that if your total cholesterol is below 200 mg/dL (and the lower the better!), you have healthy cholesterol levels.
Between 200 mg/dL and 239 mg/dL, your cholesterol is considered elevated, with 240 mg/dL and higher considered high cholesterol.
However, your total cholesterol consists of three different numbers measurements: low-density lipoprotein (LDL Cholesterol), high-density lipoprotein (hdl cholesterol), and triglycerides.
LDL cholesterol is usually considered the measure of “bad cholesterol”, so even if your total cholesterol is below 200 mg/dL, if your LDL cholesterol creeps above 100 mg/dL (or even lower for people with coronary artery disease), you’ve got elevated or high cholesterol.
There’s a similar measurement for triglycerides, which are considered elevated if they’re above 150 mg/dL.
The Simple Summary
If you’re above 200 mg/dL, you have high cholesterol. If you have above 100 mg/dL of LDL (bad cholesterol), you have high cholesterol. And your triglyceride level is considered high if it’s above 150 mg/dL.
What Are The Symptoms Of High Cholesterol?
Unfortunately, there are no direct symptoms of high cholesterol in your body unless you’ve already gotten heart disease (which can have a number of different dangerous effects).
This is why it’s crucial to get a lipid profile (test of your total cholesterol) frequently, especially if you have a family history, high blood pressure, smoke, or are overweight.
What Causes High Overall and LDL Cholesterol?
The research has shown that there is some genetic predisposition to high cholesterol, which means that if you have a family history of high cholesterol you have an elevated risk. Older individuals are also at an increased risk for high cholesterol.
However, the vast majority of risk factors for high cholesterol are within your control, including:
- A poor diet high in artificial sugars and saturated fats
- A lack of exercise
- High blood glucose, especially as a result of type 2 diabetes
What this means is that high cholesterol (as well as your risk for cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, and heart attack) is something that you can almost always overcome through strategic lifestyle decisions.
How To Lower Cholesterol Naturally
If you’re currently suffering from dangerously high cholesterol, the best decision is to work with your doctor and use medicine like statins to lower your cholesterol from the danger zone.
However, medicines like statins can have a number of different side effects if taken for extended periods, which means that it’s vastly preferable to work towards lower cholesterol and lifestyle changes.
In this next section, we’ll explore some of the small changes to your dietary and fitness strategies that can lead to lower cholesterol, specifically lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, and also a number of other health benefits.
Add Amla To Your Diet
Amla, also known as the Indian gooseberry, is a plant-based superfood found in India and Southeast Asia.
Long featured as a fundamental part of Ayurvedic medicine, western researchers have recently discovered that many of amla’s reported benefits are firmly backed by the evidence, including its tremendous antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and weight loss properties (among others).
Eat More Soluble Fibers
Your diet is always the most powerful way to lower your cholesterol level and improve your heart health, and increasing your fiber is just the first of many changes that you can make.
Soluble fibers, like those that come from foods like amla, whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes like beans and lentils, and countless other plants all assist in the absorption of cholesterol.
Eat Foods Containing Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are another dietary addition that can make a significant contribution to your overall cholesterol, as well as other cardiovascular factors. This happens because omega-3s interact with bad cholesterol, helping assist in its removal.
Many people associate omega-3’s with traditional Mediterranean cuisines like fish oil, mackerel, sardines, and other oily seafood, but we recommend eating this heart-healthy compound from flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and other nuts and seeds.
Opt For Whole Grain Options
Not only are whole grains a vastly preferable option to refined and processed grains, but the research has shown that they can actively help protect against high cholesterol, thanks in part to their rich nutrients and high fiber.
Choose Your Fats Carefully
The research is pretty clear when it comes to which fats to choose to avoid high cholesterol.
Guidelines from the American Heart Association warn against any form of trans fats, which increase cholesterol, and a preference for plant-based, unsaturated fats, which can actively reduce cholesterol.
What does this mean for your diet? Avoiding margarine, most vegetable oils, and processed foods is a big positive step. Instead, choosing natural fats from beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables can make a big difference.
Note: There’s currently some debate on the health value of olive oil and canola oil. While these unsaturated fats are certainly good sources compared to other forms of fats, there are some cases where these fats can be inadvisable. Talk to your doctor!
Scale Back On Dairy Products
There are some conflicting perspectives on dairy products. Traditionally, dairy products are high in sodium and saturated fats, which are both bad for you in high quantities.
However, some debate is currently going on about the difference between full fat, dairy-based products, and fermented milk products like yogurt and some cheeses (which have some anti-inflammatory effect), as well as products we know are ‘bad’ for you like ice cream
Our summary? High sodium and saturated fats are likely good to avoid while you’re trying to reduce cholesterol, so we recommend avoiding dairy at least while you’re adjusting your cholesterol.
Then, if you’re going to add milk products back, we recommend choosing fermented milk products like yogurt and natural cheese.
Go Easy On Red Meat (And All Forms of Meat Actually)
Meat has many defenders, mostly due to the fact that meat products are designed to be incredibly delicious.
However, the research is relatively clear here: compared to non-meats, red meat and white meat protein both increase LDL cholesterol.
This effect can be even more severe if the meats in question are processed or fried, as well as if they’re served with other saturated fats and oils (which can be common).
Add in the fact that meat consumption has been closely correlated with an increase in all-cause mortality, and you have plenty of reason to be wary, especially if you have high cholesterol.
Add In Some Aerobic Exercise
By now, the research is very clear and consistent: physical activity every day — especially aerobic exercise — is one of the best ways to lower your bad cholesterol and triglycerides, work on weight loss, and improve your blood pressure.
Sometimes this can be easier said than done when life gets in the way, but even just taking the time to hit your step count every day can make a major (and potentially life saving) difference in your cholesterol
Speaking of things that are easier said than done, but can nonetheless be life saving — quitting smoking can absolutely transform your cardiovascular wellness, especially if you have high cholesterol.
Basically, the research shows that if you’re concerned about your heart health, there’s no better time to seek help in quitting this addicting activity.
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Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by
Cyrus Khambatta, PhD
Cyrus Khambatta, PhD, is a cofounder of Mastering Diabetes and Amla Green is an internationally recognized nutrition and fitness coach who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 2002. Using an evidence-based approach to nutrition and fitness, he first reduced his own insulin usage by more than 40%, and has educated thousands of people with all forms of diabetes how to reverse insulin resistance using food as medicine. Cyrus earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University in 2003, then earned a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 2012. He is the co-host of the annual Mastering Diabetes Online Summit, a featured speaker at the Plant-Based Nutrition and Healthcare Conference (PBNHC), the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) Conference, Plant Stock, and has been featured on Forks Over Knives, NPR, PBS, KQED, Fast Company, and is the author of the upcoming book Mastering Diabetes.
- Cyrus Khambatta