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.”
To get started on the road to cardiovascular health, start with the following:
Cut the saturated fat
“Reduce your intake of butter, cheese, red meat and dark poultry. These products are loaded with saturated fat, which raises cholesterol.”
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.”
Consume soluble fiber
Soluble fiber can help remove artery-clogging low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol from the body. Beans, oat cereals, prunes, beans, flaxseeds, barley, legumes, apples, citrus fruits, brussels sprouts, apricots and broccoli are all good sources.
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 lower cholesterol, as well as 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.”
As well as menu changes, Dr. Kim recommends regular exercise and exploring ways to reduce stress, such as meditation and getting enough sleep.
“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.”
If you are worried about your cholesterol level, have a thoughtful conversation with your primary care doctor about your overall risk for cardiovascular disease and develop a comprehensive program that includes lifestyle changes.