Is there an alternative medicine for treating high cholesterol?

Suzanne Steinbaum, DO
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
A healthy diet and regular exercise are the most natural ways to lower your cholesterol, though plant sterols have proven to be effective, too. Watch as cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, shares the safest ways to lower cholesterol naturally.
Danielle F. Duffy, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
The most natural way to control high cholesterol is by adhering to a heart-healthy diet that is low in saturated fats and cholesterol, high in fiber, incorporates lean sources of protein, and is abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables. Incorporating certain combinations of foods, known as the "Portfolio Diet," can also help to naturally lower LDL-cholesterol. This combination of foods includes: unsalted nuts such as almonds or walnuts, high fiber foods, soy protein, and plant stanols/sterols. Plant stanols/sterols, or phytosterols, are naturally occuring plant molecules that help to prevent cholesterol absorption in the intestine. They can be found in certain "heart-healthy spreads" or in supplement form. The recommended daily amount for cholesterol lowering is 2 grams per day in combination with a heart-healthy diet.
Dean G. Karalis, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
The short answer to this question is no.  However, lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise can lower high cholesterol.  Exercising regularly and following a low-fat diet has been shown not only to lower cholesterol but also to reduce the long-term risk of heart disease.  There is no good alternative or over-the-counter medication to help lower high cholesterol.  If your cholesterol is elevated you should work closely with your physician or health care provider to come up with a plan to lower it and if medication is needed it should be under the direction of your physician or health care provider.
Alan Gaby
Nutrition & Dietetics

The issue of what to do about high cholesterol is very complicated, and is discussed in detail in my texbtook, Nutritional Medicine (www.doctorgaby.com). For example, some drugs that lower cholesterol have been found to have little or no effect on the risk of having a heart attack or dying, whereas other drugs (primarily statins) have reduced heart attacks and deaths by 30-40%. The greater effectiveness of statins appears to be due in part to the fact that they also have an anti-inflammatory effect.

The nutritional supplement that most closely mimics the effects of statins is red yeast rice, which contains a number of different statin-like compounds. A study from China showed that red yeast rice was as effective as statins for preventing heart attacks and reducing the death rate (J Am Geriatr Soc 2007;55:1015-22). However, not all red yeast rice products contain therapeutic levels of statin-like compounds, and some contain a contaminant (a fermentation byproduct) that has been found to damage the kidneys of animals. ConsumerLab.com analyzed 10 red yeast rice products sold in the U.S., and reported which ones were likely to be safe and effective.

Other nutritional supplements that can lower total cholesterol or LDL ("bad") cholesterol include pantethine and niacin. Policosanol is not effective, despite claims to the contrary.

Eating (as opposed to skipping) breakfast may improve cholesterol levels. Individual foods that may lower cholesterol levels include nuts, sesame seeds, oat bran, soy products and other legumes, barley, rye, tomatoes, and carrots. Reducing intake of cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fatty acids may also be beneficial.

People with high cholesterol should have their nutritional program monitored by a healthcare practitioner.

Mark C. Houston, MD
Internal Medicine

There are many effective non-drug treatments to lower cholesterol. It should be emphasized that total cholesterol is not the important number to evaluate. The more important numbers are LDL and HDL as well as triglycerides. New expanded lipid profiles are much more accurate at predicting true lipid levels and the risk for heart disease than the older traditional blood tests. These new expanded lipid profiles measure the type, number of particles and size of LDL, HDL and triglycerides.

The best ways to lower the LDL and triglyerides and increase HDL are weight loss to ideal body weight and body fat percent, aerobic and resistance exercise and a Paleolithic diet that is low in refined carbohydrates, low in saturated fats, has no trans fats, is high in monounsaturated fats and omega three fatty acids, and high in good quality organic protein. In addition, there are many natural compounds that improve lipids such as omega 3 fatty acids for triglycerides, niacin, red yeast rice, pantethine, green tea extract, phytosterols and tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E.

Dr. Robin Miller, MD
Internal Medicine
The best form of alternative medicine for lowering cholesterol is nutrition therapy with a heart healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet and regular aerobic exercise.  As far as supplements go, fish oil has been found to lower triglycerides.  Red yeast rice which is a "natural" statin can lower cholesterol.  Niacin is a B vitamin that can lower cholesterol, raise HDL or good cholesterol and lower triglycerides. 

It is important that if you use any of these supplements to lower your cholesterol you discuss it with your doctor first.  Even though they may be natural they can have side effects so it is important that you be monitored.

Continue Learning about High Cholesterol

High Cholesterol

High Cholesterol

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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.