High blood cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. People with high cholesterol and who are at high risk of heart disease may be offered prescription drugs such as statins to help lower their cholesterol. However, some people may prefer not to take medications and instead try to lower their cholesterol naturally. Cholesterol can be lowered by making some simple, healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, taking more exercise and having a heart-healthy diet.
Dietary Changes to Lower Cholesterol Naturally
While some fat is necessary for a healthy diet, eating too much of the wrong type of fat is unhealthy. Saturated fat found in foods such as pies, biscuits, cakes, butter, hard cheese, lard, pastry and red meat is turned into cholesterol by the liver, which in turn increases total and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Here are some dietary changes which may help to lower cholesterol naturally:
- Decrease the amount of saturated fat in the diet by eating lean meat and poultry, low fat dairy products and less pastry, pies, cakes and biscuits.
- Limit the amount of trans fats in the diet, as these also increase cholesterol. Trans fats are found in foods which say “partially hydrogenated” on the label, such as margarines, cakes, biscuits, fried foods and processed foods.
- Increase the amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are “good” fats and are found in oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil and canola oil.
- Eat more foods containing omega-3 fatty acids. These are a type of polyunsaturated fat which helps to reduce LDL cholesterol. Omega-3s are found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring, as well as in walnuts and flaxseed.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables (at least five portions a day). These contain fibre which helps to lower cholesterol.
- Eat more soluble fibre, as this absorbs cholesterol and prevents it passing into the bloodstream. Good sources of soluble fibre include oat bran, dried beans, barley and psyllium.
- Reduce alcohol consumption.
Exercise and Weight Loss to Lower Cholesterol
If a person is overweight, losing weight by having a healthy diet and taking more exercise can help lower cholesterol. Weight loss reduces LDL cholesterol and increases HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol associated with a lower risk of heart disease). Even a slight weight loss of just a few pounds can make a difference. Exercise also has a positive effect on cholesterol regardless of whether weight loss is necessary.
Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five times each week is a good target to aim for, but any amount of exercise counts, even if it is only for a few minutes. Good ways of fitting more exercise into daily life include using stairs instead of lifts, doing vigorous housework, taking brisk walks whenever possible, and taking part in enjoyable activities such as swimming, dancing or gardening.
For many people, lifestyle changes will be enough to lower their cholesterol. However, for others who have high cholesterol and who are at high risk of heart disease, medication such as statins for lowering cholesterol may be advised. Regardless of whether medication is necessary, it is important to follow a healthy lifestyle to help lower cholesterol naturally.
Bupa. “High Cholesterol” (Accessed June 21st 2010).
MayoClinic. “Top 5 Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Cholesterol” (Accessed June 21st 2010).
WebMD. “11 Tips to Cut Your Cholesterol Fast” (Accessed June 21st 2010).