How to Lower Cholesterol Without Medication

5 tips to help reduce cholesterol and risk of heart disease

A healthy man slices berries for a low-cholesterol meal in his kitchen.

5 tips to help reduce cholesterol and risk of heart disease

Unless you have been diagnosed with heart disease, medication doesn’t have to be your first choice for lowering high blood cholesterol. Simple lifestyle and nutritional changes can decrease your cholesterol — a high risk factor for heart disease.

“I tell patients that they need to start somewhere,” says Brian Kim, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Hillcrest.

“As you adopt lifestyle changes, you may be able to prevent the need for cholesterol-lowering statin medication. If you do still need to take medicine to get your cholesterol back on track, you might be able to lower your dose and the chance of side effects.”

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that the liver produces and performs many important functions in your body. Too much cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease, however.

Cholesterol comes from two sources. Your body naturally produces all the cholesterol it needs and circulates it through the blood. Cholesterol also is found in animal-based foods, including red meat and dairy products, that are high in saturated and trans fats. When you eat a lot of these foods, your liver produces more cholesterol than the body needs.

LDL cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, is considered the “bad” cholesterol that can clog your arteries. HDL cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein, is the “good” cholesterol that helps remove LDL cholesterol and protects the arteries.

5 tips to help lower cholesterol without medication

Follow these five tips to help lower your cholesterol naturally.

1. Cut the saturated fat

Saturated fats found in beef and full-fat dairy foods can increase LDL cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.

“Reduce your intake of butter, cheese, red meat and dark poultry. These products are loaded with saturated fat, which raises cholesterol,” Dr. Kim says.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the majority of fats in your diet should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, better known as the good fats. They can be found in nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil.

2. Eat more produce

“The closer you can get to being a vegetarian the better. Eating fruits and vegetables helps keep your appetite in check and has a protective effect against coronary heart disease.”

In other words, eating more fruits and veggies can help you live longer. Plant-based diets are full of heart healthy ingredients.

3. Consume soluble fiber

Soluble fiber can help remove LDL or bad cholesterol from your bloodstream. It can also help with your digestive health. Beans, oat cereals, prunes, flaxseeds, barley, legumes, apples, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, apricots and broccoli are all good sources.

4. Add fatty fish to the menu

Certain types of fish, such as wild salmon and sardines, are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower triglyceride levels, a type of fat that comes from foods, and reduce blood pressure. “Aim to incorporate fish high in omega-3 fats into your diet two times a week,“ says Dr. Kim. “Be mindful of how you prepare it, skipping rich sauces that could be full of saturated fat.”

Salmon and sardines are considered heart healthy fish to eat, so are trout, catfish, canned light tuna and tilapia. Make sure the fish you eat is low in mercury.

5. Reduce stress

In addition to regular exercise or physical activity and getting enough sleep, Dr. Kim recommends exploring other ways to reduce stress, including meditation.

“Chronic stress exposes your body to persistently elevated levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can increase inflammation in the body and indirectly raise blood cholesterol levels,” Dr. Kim says. “To truly adopt a comprehensive program that will lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease, finding healthy ways to cope with stress is imperative.”

When to seek medical advice

If you are worried about your cholesterol level, have a thoughtful conversation with your primary care doctor about your overall risk for heart disease and develop a comprehensive program that promotes heart health.

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