Your doctor’s office calls with your recent lab results and informs you about your high cholesterol levels. After worrying and asking yourself how that came to be, you wonder if medications are your only option.
Rest assured. There are many natural solutions that you can try. With a few simple lifestyle changes and some dedication, before you know it your cholesterol levels will be as low as they should be.
Most people are unfamiliar with the damage high cholesterol can cause because it is what health care providers call a silent disease. There are no signs or symptoms that warn us about the accumulation of cholesterol in our bodies.
That is why it is important to spread awareness about this condition before it can lead to permanent and sometimes, lethal outcomes.
High cholesterol has no age limit and can affect children, young, and older adults. Over a million adults in the united states have high cholesterol
LDL or low-density lipoprotein is bad cholesterol. More than one-third of Americans have high LDL levels.
It carries cholesterol to our arteries which carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body. LDL can accumulate in our arteries and form blockages called plaques. The plaques narrow our arteries and slow our blood flow.
The good cholesterol is HDL or high-density lipoprotein. It carries cholesterol from our blood to the liver where cholesterol is eliminated.
Let’s take a look at the top ways that guarantee to lower your cholesterol fast and improve your overall health.
What it takes to lower your cholesterol fast
You will notice that changes in diet and nutrition are always mentioned when it comes to lowering your cholesterol. It is one of the easiest and most fun ways to start with because you get to try foods that you might not have had or heard of before!
It only takes some eliminations to your grocery list to eliminate your bad cholesterol for good.
You will hit two birds with one stone by doing this because eating healthier can help you shed some extra pounds which can lower your cholesterol levels even further.
If you are overweight, staying away from processed foods high in fat and sugar will help you shed some pounds. Losing 10 pounds is said to decrease your LDL levels by 8%.
Here are some tips that can help you along your journey to lower cholesterol:
- Eliminating any sources of harmful fats including trans and saturated fats is key. Make it a point to read the label on what you eat. Get familiar with all the other names that trans fats can be hiding behind such as partially hydrogenated oil.
- Adding more color to your plate by introducing more vegetables, fruits, and legumes to your diet. They have high fiber content which limits your body’s ability to absorb cholesterol.
- Make some substitutions that will help you lower your cholesterol. Swap red meat is high in saturated fats with low mercury fish such as salmon and tuna.
- Throwing all the butter in your fridge out and using healthier oils such as olive oil and sunflower oil instead can decrease your LDL by 15%. This is similar to the effect of a low dose of cholesterol-lowering medication.
- Anthocyanin is an anti-inflammatory extract that can be found in purple fruits such as blackberries and red cabbage. One study showed that it increased HDL by 19% in diabetic patients and high cholesterol
- Spice things up with herbs and spices such as garlic and turmeric to lower your total cholesterol. These spices also reduce the formation of the blockages or plaques that form in the arteries.
Foods to include in your diet
Some additions that you can make to your daily meals can lower your bad cholesterol and even raise your good cholesterol. These changes might be new to you, especially if you have been following the same eating habits for a long time. Don’t be afraid of trying something new because it can lead you to better health.
Who knows you might even start to dislike your old eating habits once you try these healthy alternatives:
- Skinless chicken, turkey breasts, and seafood rich in omega 3 fatty acids
- Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and cashews
- Legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils
- Kale, spinach and other dark leafy greens
- Dark chocolate with 75% or higher cocoa
- Citrus fruits like orange strawberries and grapefruit
- Oatmeal, barley, and quinoa
Foods to avoid
To be in the crystal clear when it comes to high cholesterol, you need to eliminate some foods from your diet. This might be even more difficult than trying new foods because the elimination might include foods that you love but that are bad for your health. You have to decide between throwing away that bag of chips or throwing away your health. I am sure you will make the right decision.
Examples of some perhaps painful but worthwhile eliminations include:
- Processed foods such as cakes, cookies, and brownies
- Red meat and bacon
- Soda and sugary juice
- Whole fat dairy
- Oily potato chips
- Anything fried including fries, chicken, and corn dogs
Working out is just as important as making changes in what we eat. If you have a labor-intensive job, you might think that you are in the clear. Think again because most of the time this is not the case. A mix of daily aerobic and resistance training exercises are needed for the best results.
Exercise can decrease LDL and increase HDL. It can also improve blood flow and serve as a stress-coping mechanism. The usual recommendation is 30 minutes of exercise daily. You might need a more rigorous exercise routine if you are overweight and have more pounds to lose.
Recommended exercises to lower cholesterol fast include:
- Long-distance jogs and walks: a more relaxed long-distance jog has been shown to increase HDL more than a fast sprint. Walking has the same benefits as running it just might take longer to burn off the calories.
- If you have bad joints don’t sweat it: well you do want to sweat, but can replace running with swimming and cycling. They are easier on the joints, especially If you have arthritis. Swimming has been shown to lower LDL even more than walking.
- Do you lift? If you do not and you have high cholesterol, this is the time to start. People who lift weights decrease their LDL faster than people who opt-out. Start with lower weights and slowly build your way up.
- Do some yoga: Yoga reduces stress, decreases total cholesterol and LDL, and increases HDL.
Kick the bad habits to the curb
We spoke about the benefits of making changes in nutrition and exercise. To lower your cholesterol more and say goodbye to all the harmful effects that come with it, you need to live a tobacco-free lifestyle.
Smoking increases high cholesterol and the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The nicotine contained in cigarettes causes inflammation in our arteries. Even if you do not smoke, second-hand smoking has also been shown to raise LDL levels.
Nicotine replacement therapy, support groups, and avoiding triggers can be helpful in quitting. Speaking to someone who quit or joining support groups is also helpful. Speak to your doctor about the different options available to see what works for you.
Alcohol can also have lasting harmful effects on our bodies. Too much alcohol can cause liver damage. The liver plays an important part of eliminating cholesterol from our body. Alcohol also causes weight gain and poor nutrition which are other causes of high cholesterol.
If you cannot stop drinking alcohol completely, try to lower your consumption to no more than one drink a day. Beer and liquor do not contain cholesterol but do have harmful ingredients that can affect cholesterol levels.
Get rid of stress
Who knew that our emotions can also increase our cholesterol levels? People usually underestimate the amount of damage stress can cause to our bodies. It truly is just like any other disease and brushing it off as a normal process can lead to serious health issues.
Even mild stress has been found to increase LDL and lower HDL levels in our blood.
Some examples of stress-relieving activities include
- Regular exercise: take awake to clear your mind or join a yoga class to relax and socialize
- Meditation: clear your mind every day for a few minutes and think about nothing while you take deep long breaths
- Improved sleeping: sleep deprivation can worsen stress and anxiety because the body does not get the rest it needs. Using essential oils such as lavender and drinking calming teas such as chamomile can be very helpful.
- Expressing your feelings with someone you trust: This can be to a family member, friend or a counselor.
- Eliminate or find solutions to the negative sources of stress in your life whether they were big or small. Take time during the day to identify those sources and think of ways to press that delete button.
Try your best to avoid falling back on bad habits such as stress eating, smoking, drugs and anything that would put your health in danger.
Some claim that natural supplements can lower cholesterol such as garlic, fiber, and red yeast rice but there is not enough evidence about their safety and efficacy. Always discuss with your doctor before taking any type of supplements.
Some of the few supplements that have some scientific evidence behind them include omega 3 and psyllium.
Omega 3 improves heart health and decrease triglycerides. Over the counter, sources are not regulated but there are prescribed safe and FDA approved alternatives.
Psyllium are plant seeds high in fiber content that have also been said to help in lowering total cholesterol and triglycerides.
In some cases, medications might be necessary. Do not be discouraged if you attempt to lower your cholesterol fast with lifestyle changes but you do not reach the levels you want. Keep on attempting all the changes mentioned as they are beneficial for your overall health.
The most commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications are called statins. They lower LDL and raise HDL. The dose you will take will depend on how high your LDL is and how aggressive you want to be about lowering it.
Other factors that would affect what treatment you receive will depend on what other medical conditions you have. For example, if you have existing heart disease or diabetes you might need a higher dose or even two cholesterol-lowering medications.
Side effects of these medications are rare but include muscle soreness, stomach pain, and diarrhea or constipation.
You will need to check your cholesterol levels 6-8 weeks after starting a statin and then every 4-6 months afterward. A lipid panel is a blood test that can check your total cholesterol along with LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels.
There are other medications that can lower your cholesterol such as fibrates, bile acid sequestrants, and cholesterol absorption inhibitors. Speak to your doctor about what option is best for you.
Final thoughts on how to reduce cholesterol
Our body is capable of making all the cholesterol we need. Anything in excess is usually harmful, as is the case with cholesterol.
Having high cholesterol does not come with early signs. It can affect every organ in our body including the heart and brain.
Think about your lifestyle habits including diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol intake, and stress. Do they need some revisions?
Following a few lifestyle changes can make a world of difference and lower your cholesterol fast.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help in taking the first step towards a healthier future. Encourage yourself and your loved ones to make the changes that will end up saving your and their lives.
Njoud Jweihan is a certified medical doctor and writer from Atlanta, Georgia with vast experience in primary care medicine. She completed a scientific writing program from Stanford university, and found writing to be an excellent way of sharing her medical knowledge. Her interests include women’s health, lifestyle medicine, and preventative care. Njoud loves traveling and exploring different cultures, hours of baking in the kitchen, and spending time with family.