How can I lower my cholesterol without taking medicine?

Dr. Kevin J. Soden, MD
Family Medicine
We all need a certain amount of cholesterol to help our cells to function properly and it’s the primary reason our bodies make about 80 percent of the cholesterol in our blood. High cholesterol can mean different things to different people and is really a catchall term often used inappropriately. Doctors need to be specific when talking about cholesterol. Does your doctor mean high “total” cholesterol, high triglycerides, low HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol (the good one cholesterol) or high LDL (the bad cholesterol or low density lipoprotein)? High cholesterol can be one of these problems or a combination of all these things so it’s important to know what your specific problem is so that treatment can be individualized.

The reason for treating hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) is to lower your risk of heart disease as it’s believed that cholesterol plaques are one of the causes for blockages in your arteries. Some people have elevated cholesterol levels because of their particular genetics and this is known as familial hypercholesterolemia or high cholesterol. This will often require a much more aggressive approach to lowering cholesterol and should be monitored closely.

Here are some of the best ways I’ve found to improve or lower your cholesterol:
  • Eat smaller portions of food as it lowers the amount of saturated fat we ingest.
  • Load up on fruits and vegetables by eating 5-9 servings a day. It will reduce the amount of fatty foods in your diet.
  • Increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your body by eating more fish or by taking supplements containing omega-3s.
  • Use “good” fats -- olive, canola or safflower when cooking or eating.
  • Use whole grains -- beans, whole wheat and brown rice -- and avoid foods that are white -- white bread, white rice and potatoes.
  • Exercise 30 minutes a day at least five times a week as this helps to lower the bad or LDL cholesterol and increase the good or HDL cholesterol.
  • Enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner.
  • Stay away from all processed foods and foods containing saturated fats.
Prevention is very important so take steps now to improve your health. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your doctor believes your cholesterol is still too high. In those cases, using OTC or prescription medicines is appropriate and can help to lower your risk of heart attack or coronary heart disease.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.