Cholesterol, a waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells of the body, is one of several key risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It contributes to the buildup of plaque that can block arteries and eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.
One of the easiest ways to lower your cholesterol is with some simple changes to your diet. For instance, eating a hearty bowl of oatmeal every day can provide a dose of cholesterol-cutting soluble fiber. According to Harvard researchers, soluble fiber can lower both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. The type of fat you eat can also impact your cholesterol levels. Eating healthy fats, like those found in fish and nuts, in place of the saturated fat found in red meat lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol, and improves the ratio of LDL cholesterol to HDL (good) cholesterol. Eliminating the trans-fats found in margarines and many processed foods is even more important since this man-made fat not only raises total and LDL cholesterol, it also lowers HDL cholesterol levels.
Along with dietary changes, adopting a regular exercise program and walking away from cigarettes is critical for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Studies suggest that exercise increases HDL cholesterol. Smoking, on the other hand, lowers HDL levels. It also increases total and LDL cholesterol. If you smoke, find a way to quit.
Aged Garlic Extract: inhibits the liver's ability to produce cholesterol in much the same way statin drugs do, but without side effects. A meta-analysis in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture suggests that AGE can reduce both total cholesterol and triglyceride levels when taken on a long-term basis, especially for people with very high cholesterol levels. Typical dosage: 600 mg taken twice a day with meals.
Fish Oil: is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to lower triglycerides and increase HDL cholesterol. But, as beneficial as fish oil is on its own, it’s even better when paired with red yeast rice. According to a clinical trial of 74 people by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, taking a combination of red yeast rice and fish oil is just as effective at lowering LDL cholesterol levels as statin drugs. And unlike pharmaceuticals, this dynamic duo also lowered triglyceride levels in all of the participants taking the supplements. Typical dosage: 3,000 mg per day.
Niacin:, also known as vitamin B3, prevents HDL from being removed from the blood by the liver, and that can boost your good cholesterol levels by up to 35 percent. There is also some evidence that niacin can improve your entire lipid profile. A recent investigation by researchers at the University of Western Australia discovered that taking a high dose of niacin on a long-term basis resulted in a 47 percent drop in triglyceride levels. Typical dosage: Begin with 50 to 100 mg of regular (not non-flushing) niacin taken at bedtime and gradually increase the amount to give your body a chance to adjust to the niacin. To help prevent flushing, take your niacin supplement with a dose of uncoated aspirin or stinging nettles. If you use niacin, work with a doctor to monitor your liver enzymes every 3 months.
Plant Sterols: are naturally-occurring compounds found in many vegetables and legumes. But when taken in supplemental form, they can have a significant impact on your cholesterol levels. Because they have a chemical structure similar to cholesterol, plant sterols can block cholesterol absorption in the intestine by more than 10 percent. As a bonus, sterols also help reign in triglycerides. Typical dosage: 1.3 g of supplemental plant sterols with your two largest meals every day.
Red Yeast Rice: is the fermented by-product of rice on which red yeast is grown. This process creates a compound called monacolin K that inhibits the production of cholesterol by stopping the action of a key enzyme in the liver much the same way that statin drugs do. Red yeast rice is so effective that, according to a new study in the American Journal of Cardiology, it can cut total cholesterol by 15 percent and LDL cholesterol by 21 percent. Typical dosage: 1,200 mg twice a day. Red yeast rice is effective, and seems to not have the same side effects as the statin drugs. There is some speculation that this nutrient may lower coenzyme Q10 levels in the body. If you take a red yeast rice supplement, it’s wise to also take supplemental CoQ10.