With heart disease as the leading cause of death worldwide, it’s important to care about your heart health. One aspect of heart health is your cholesterol. High levels of cholesterol can lead to hardened arteries and vessels. This is turn can lead to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Although some people may be more prone to high cholesterol through genetics, diet matters too. The typical Western diet is high in sugar, fat, and salt, which is not beneficial to heart health. Therefore, to lower cholesterol and in turn heart health risk, you should eat a healthier diet. This means more fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that can lower cholesterol.
A healthy total cholesterol level should be below 200 mg/dL. But besides total cholesterol, you should watch your numbers for the specific types of cholesterol. First, you should maintain your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, below 100 mg/dL. This type of cholesterol is the one that can lead to plaques in the blood vessels.
On the other hand, you should make sure your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol above 50 mg/dL. This type of cholesterol helps to transport cholesterol from the blood to the liver to be broken down and removed from your body.
In addition to eating a healthier diet, there are also supplements you can take to lower cholesterol. Read below to learn more about such supplements and how you can add them in your daily regimen to improve your heart health today.
Supplements to lower cholesterol
Also known as Cynara scolymus, artichoke extract is a large thistle-like plant whose leaves have medicinal properties. Some health uses of artichoke extract include reducing the symptoms of indigestion, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, as well as lowering cholesterol.
Research shows that artichoke leaf extract (ALE) from globe artichoke can lower cholesterol in those with moderately raised cholesterol. Subjects in this study took 4 capsules totaling 1280 milligrams of ALE daily over 12 weeks. Another study shows that 1000 milligrams of ALE daily for eight weeks can increase “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. The study results also show that it can lower total cholesterol and “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
Furthermore, recent animal studies show that long-term use of artichoke leaf can prevent certain health conditions. These conditions include insulin resistance, inflammation, as well as elevated cholesterol levels.
Studies show that artichoke extract is generally safe for most people in its fresh form. Those who are allergic to marigolds, daisies, or other herbs should not take artichoke extract. This is because they may also have an allergic reaction to artichoke. Besides potential allergic reactions, another side effect of artichoke extract may include intestinal gas. Those with bile duct obstruction, gallstones, or pregnant or breastfeeding women should not take artichoke extract.
Barley is not just any cereal grain. Besides its presence in breads and beverages like beer, barley is also an effective cholesterol treatment. The cholesterol-lowering properties of barley are in a certain fiber known as beta-glucan. Research shows that the barley beta-glucan lowers cholesterol due to enhanced bile acid synthesis. This means that beta-glucan stimulates the breakdown of cholesterol.
A 2018 animal study shows that barley can lower cholesterol by preventing cholesterol synthesis and stimulating bile acid synthesis. Furthermore a 2019 animal study shows that barley intake significantly increased the sizes of HDL cholesterol. This in turn can reduce risk of stroke. Finally, a 2018 human study shows that barley beta-glucan lowers cholesterol fecal bile acid excretion.
For lowering cholesterol, experts suggest the following guidelines:
- 3 grams barley extract
- 30 grams barley brain flour
- 0.4 to 6 grams of soluble fiber from barley
- 3-12 grams pearled barley, barley flour, barley flakes, or barley powder
Since it contains gluten, barley is not suitable for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Those breastfeeding, as well as those on certain diabetes medications, should not consume barley. Also, those who are pregnant should not consume barley sprouts. Finally, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids when increasing fiber intake to prevent constipation.
Fish oil, which contains antioxidant-rich omega-3 fatty acids, are known for their heart-healthy properties. The heart health benefits of fish oil include effectiveness in lowering cholesterol.
A 2017 study shows that daily supplementation of fish oil for 12 weeks can improve blood fats, LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol. It can also lower diastolic blood pressure, which is also important in improving heart health. Also, a 2018 study review shows that omega-3 fatty acids can increase HDL cholesterol and reduce blood fats. Since fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, then fish oil can also benefit lipid health.
An effective dose of fish oil may include:
- 1 to 15 grams of fish oil daily for up to 6 months
- Fish oil supplements providing 1.45 to 2.7 grams of EPA and 1.05 to 1.8 grams of DHA daily
Fish oil is generally safe for consumption, but you should take it under a doctor’s supervision. However, too much fish oil could increase risk of bleeding or suppress the immune system. Therefore, those taking blood thinners, on immunosuppressants, or those allergic to fish or shellfish should not take fish oil. Potential side effects of fish oil may include a fishy aftertaste, indigestion, loose stools, rash, nausea, or bad breath.
Because of its rich content of healthy fats, antioxidants, and fiber, flaxseed is an effective cholesterol fighter. Flaxseed, as well as its oil, are rich sources of alpha-linolenic omega-3 fatty acid. Flaxseed is also high in soluble fiber and lignans that contain phytoestrogens. A type of phytoestrogen, called phytosterols, are effective in lowering LDL cholesterol.
A 2016 study shows that consuming 6 grams of flaxseed oil daily for eight weeks can reduce blood fat levels. Flaxseed can also lower cholesterol, but study results show this is only confirmed in those with elevated cholesterol.
Experts report that flaxseed is safe and not toxic to human consumption. However, consuming too much flaxseed can cause side effects like bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain. Also, pregnant women, those taking hormone therapy, or those with bowel obstruction should not take flaxseed. Finally, you should not consume raw or unripe flaxseed.
With its pungent flavor, garlic is a great addition to many dishes. However, besides its potent flavor, garlic can also be effective in lowering cholesterol. Garlic is rich in organosulfur compounds known for their heart health benefits.
A 2018 study shows that garlic can lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Also, research shows that garlic supplements can regulate slightly elevated cholesterol in hypertensive individuals. Furthermore, a 2016 study shows that garlic plus lemon juice consumption can improve lipid levels in those with hyperlipidemia.
Dosage recommendations of garlic include the following:
- 2 to 5 grams of fresh raw garlic
- 0.4 to 1.2 grams of dried garlic powder
- 2 to 5 milligrams of garlic oil
- 300 to 1000 milligrams of garlic extract (as solid material)
The most common side effects of consuming garlic are breath, body odor, or symptoms like nausea, vomiting, heartburn, or abdominal pain. Garlic supplements come in powder, liquid, and oil form and are safe for most people to consume.
Known best for its anti-nausea properties, ginger can also help reduce inflammation and pain as well as improve cholesterol. A 2018 study review shows that ginger can improve blood fat levels as well as LDL cholesterol.
Another 2018 study shows that 6-gingerol, one of the active ingredients in ginger, can also help cholesterol health. Researchers suggest it could decrease cellular total cholesterol and free cholesterol levels by upregulating the LDL cholesterol receptor. Furthermore, another compound in ginger known as 6-dihydroparadol may also contribute to ginger’s cholesterol health benefits.
Also, a 2016 study shows that about 100 milligrams ginger daily for 10 weeks lowers blood fat levels. A 2018 study shows that 5 grams daily of ginger for three months can lower LDL and total cholesterol as well as body weight.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ginger is generally recognized as safe (GRAS). However, you should consume no more than 4 grams of dried ginger daily (no more than one gram daily if you’re pregnant). Also, pregnant women or those with gallstones, diabetes, or blood clotting issues should consult their doctor before taking ginger. Finally, don’t take ginger with aspirin or any blood-thinning medications.
Also known as vitamin B3, niacin plays an important role in maintaining digestive, skin, and nervous system health. Recent research shows that it also shows promise in helping to improve cholesterol health. This nutrient is in many foods like animal products, nuts, and fortified cereals as well as supplements. A 2016 study shows that niacin may help increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
Those people who are most likely to benefit from niacin treatment are those with dyslipidemia. In other words, those with elevated LDL cholesterol elevated triglycerides and decreased HDL cholesterol.
Niacin dosages should be customized to the individual and may differ depending on whether it’s sustained or immediate release. You should talk to your doctor about the recommended dosages for your condition.
Potential side effects include stomach upset as well as skin itching and flushing initially after starting niacin treatment. Also, those under the age of 16 years should avoid taking niacin. This is because there are no safety guidelines for this population.
Oats are a common grain that you may consume in the morning hours for a healthy breakfast. Oats are full of gut-healthy fiber and other nutrients like essential amino acids and fatty acids important for optimal health. And let’s not forget the cholesterol health benefits oats can provide.
Of the nutrients, it contains, oat bran consists of a soluble fiber called beta-glucan that is vital to improving cholesterol. One study shows that a daily dose of 3 grams or greater oats can reduce LDL and total cholesterol. Researchers suggest that dietary oat can improve high cholesterol by increasing fecal bile acid excretion.
At least 3 grams of beta-glucan daily, or 90 grams of oats, is recommended to benefit cholesterol health. The FDA recognizes oats as safe when consumed as food. However, oat bran may impact iron absorption or absorption of other medicines. Therefore, ask your healthcare provider before adding oat bran to your diet if you take HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors or iron.
Another fiber supplement that can help cholesterol health is psyllium. It’s normally used as a bulk-forming laxative that can benefit constipation, diarrhea, and blood pressure. However, this same function can also help lower cholesterol.
One 2018 study shows that an average of about 10 grams of psyllium fiber daily can lower LDL cholesterol. This is turn can lower heart health risk. Also, taking psyllium fiber before meals with statins can lower LDL cholesterol in those that can’t tolerate high-dose statins.
Experts suggest 10 to 20 grams of psyllium fiber daily in three divided doses before meals to improve cholesterol. Be sure to drink plenty of water when taking psyllium to prevent bowel blockage and to reduce side effects.
Psyllium is safe for consumption in most adults as well as children and adolescents. However, some potential side effects may include abdominal cramps, constipation, and gas. Also, psyllium doesn’t have any serious or moderate interactions with any medicines. It just has a minor interaction with sodium picosulfate.
Besides providing a plant-based source of protein, soy protein can also benefit cholesterol health. Soy protein is derived from soybeans and is used in the diets of vegetarians and vegans to provide a rich protein source. The isoflavone compounds in soy protein show promise to reduce inflammation and improve blood glucose control and blood pressure.
According to recent research, soy protein can also lower cholesterol. A 2019 study review shows that soy protein can lower LDL cholesterol by about 3 to 4-percent in adults. The American Heart Association suggests that due to such benefits, you should add soy protein to your diet. They recommend replacing some of the animal fats in your diet with soy protein to improve heart health.
Consuming soy protein in its natural form is safe for most people. Also, soy protein supplements are safe when used for six months or less. However, potential side effects of soy protein include constipation, nausea, and bloating or a rash in those allergic to soy. Long-term use or high doses of soy extract may be unsafe. However, consuming it in food form should be safe for most long-term.
Those who are pregnant should not consume soy in medicinal amounts but should be safe consuming it in food. Also, those with conditions like asthma, breast cancer, cystic fibrosis, as well as kidney or thyroid conditions should limit or avoid soy protein.
Final thoughts about Supplements for Cholesterol
Maintaining healthy cholesterol is vital for overall heart health. And although changes in your diet can help lower cholesterol levels and heart health risks, so can certain supplements. Such supplements like fiber supplements, fish oils, and antioxidant compounds can help lower cholesterol.
For otherwise healthy individuals, these supplements can help fill in the nutritional gaps in your diet to lower your heart disease risk. However, if you have high cholesterol, you should not stop using prescribed medicines unless your doctor says its safe. And be sure to let them know if you’re planning on adding any supplements to your regimen.
Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, health editor, and founder of LighttrackNutrition.com. She has been a dietitian since 2010, and has helped thousands of patients in arenas like weight management, fitness, long-term care, rehab, and bariatric nutrition. Staci has also been writing and editing since 2011 for such websites as CDiabetes, Anirva, and Casa de Sante, to name a few and has been a featured expert for websites like Shape.com, ThisisInsider.com, and Eat This Not That. Staci hopes to provide others accessible, accurate, and practical health and wellness information so they can make lasting healthy lifestyle changes.