Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs are the top revenue-generating type of prescription medication. Approximately 20 million people take cholesterol medication on a regular basis. Statin drugs are designed to remove cholesterol out of plaque, thereby lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL). High LDL levels can cause heart disease, heart attack or stroke.
Statins generate billions of dollars every year for drug makers. Lipitor is regarded as the best-selling drug of all time. The drug generates approximately $3 billion a year for Pfizer. The drug single-handedly has earned over $160 billion in sales since its approval in 1996.
Reasons To Lower Cholesterol Naturally
But as with all pharmaceuticals, there are potential side effects of taking any one of the 7 different types of statins. According to this research article, the two most documented side effects in observational studies and clinical trials are: an increased risk of myopathy and an increased incidence of diabetes.
The most common symptom of myopathy is muscle pain. The prevalence of statin- drug-induced musculoskeletal pain in studies (like this one) is as high as 33%. In addition, statins may increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke.
Other more serious side effects such as liver or kidney failure are rare.
Because of concern over these side effects, some people look for natural ways to improve lower cholesterol.
There is also concern by some in the alternative health field that cholesterol drugs are overprescribed. Consider this editorial written by a naturopathic doctor (ND). The ND says elevated cholesterol is not the problem; elevated cholesterol is an adaptation of the body in response to inflammation. Instead of blaming cholesterol, the ND suggests the root cause of the problem is an unhealthy diet and lifestyle. Drugs alone can’t resolve these factors.
That being said, however, statins may be beneficial for people who have high levels of C-reactive protein. High C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) indicates unchecked inflammation throughout the body. It’s a stronger predictor of heart attacks than LDL-cholesterol scores alone.
Now, before revealing some of the best ways to lower cholesterol without drugs, first a brief disclaimer: If you currently take a statin drug, do not stop taking it. Consult with your doctor. Also, the information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
The Ornish Diet For Cholesterol
Eating healthier is one of the most effective ways to reduce cholesterol scores. But what exactly does eating healthy mean? According to Dr. Dean Ornish, whose strict eponymous famous diet was studied in the Lifestyle Heart Trial), it means eating the following:
- Complex carbohydrates (wild or brown rice, quinoa)
- Soybean products (tofu, soy milk, edamame soy beans)
- Nonfat dairy
- No oils
- No animal products
Unlike popular high-fat diets such as the ketogenic diet, the Ornish diet is low fat. Less than 10% of total calories come from fat. No more than 20% are from protein. The remaining calories come from carbohydrates.
High-carbohydrate diets are to blame for the obesity and diabetes epidemic. However, the carbohydrates in the Ornish diet are nutrient-dense. This means they contain relatively few calories and lots of vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds.
Does Cholesterol In Food Matter?
There is some debate about dietary cholesterol’s impact on blood cholesterol scores. Certain individuals have a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia. “FH” for short is when high cholesterol levels run in the family. It’s particularly concerning when someone in the family has had high cholesterol and an adverse cardiovascular event. There’s also a specific gene—APOE—that can predict whether somebody may be susceptible for heart disease. For these people, eating foods high in cholesterol may indeed prove fatal.
The Ornish diet assumes a cautionary tack. It limits cholesterol to only 12 mg per day. Consider that a one-cup serving of chicken contains over 120 mg of chicken.
Dr. Ornish’s protocol can result in successful weight loss. As for its efficacy on cholesterol, in the Lifestyle Heart Trial, Ornish’s patients experienced an impressive 37% reduction in LDL cholesterol levels. However, levels of HDL cholesterol (often referred to as the good kind of cholesterol) did not change significantly.
Furthermore, according to the study, Dr. Ornish’s patients experienced a 91% reduction in angina (chest pain caused by poor blood flow) frequency. It’s difficult to say if it was the Ornish Diet’s strict eating regimen that led to the improvements, or that and a combination of exercise and stress reduction. Both these lifestyle modifications are a big part of the overall Ornish program.
The Mediterranean Diet For Lowering Cholesterol
The big problem with the Ornish Diet is that most Americans will find it impossible to stick with. If you want to lower your cholesterol naturally, it’s imperative that you stop eating fast food, fried food, and give up sugary snacks, drinks and baked goods.
A happy medium between the two dietary extremes of Ornish and the Standard American Diet is the Meditarranean Diet.
Whereas the Ornish Diet forbids animal protein, on the Med Diet, you can have fish and chicken once or twice a week. You can even have red meat once in a blue moon. But like the Ornish Diet, the Med Diet places heavy emphasis on the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruit, along with whole grains and healthy fats.
Healthy fats mostly come from olives, olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado. Legumes are also heavily encouraged while eggs are ok in moderation. You can even have a little bit of dairy products. Med Diet-friendly dairy mostly consists of plain yogurt or kefir.
Does Eating Fiber Help Lower Cholesterol?
Vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains contain lots of fiber. In a review of studies on fiber, the data shows that if you consume 10 to 30 grams of soluble fiber every day, you can lower your LDL level by 10%.
Lower Your Cholesterol Naturally With Fish Oil
How do you explain the following nutritional paradox: Eskimos eat a diet that’s very high in both fat and cholesterol. Yet Eskimos who stick to their traditional diet hardly ever die from heart disease. The reason why is because fish oil is a staple of the Eskimo diet. Fish oil contains two types of Omega-3 essential fatty acids: EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are potent LDL-lowering healthy fats.
This study, which looked at Eskimos from Greenland as well as another population that typically eats a high fat diet yet has low heart disease—the Danish—says that EPA and DHA also lowers triglycerides (fat in the blood).
To get the cholesterol-lowering benefits of fish oil, consume 200 to 300 g per week of fish such as wild salmon. You can also buy an omega-3 fish oil supplement. Because the quality of fish oil supplements varies greatly, choose a reputable brand. If you can stomach the taste of concentrated fish oil liquid, taking it this way is usually more beneficial than getting your omega-3s from capsules. (Again, it depends on the brand.)
In this study, subjects who ate 400 grams per week of oily fish had a 29% reduction in all-cause mortality after two years, in comparison to other groups in the study who ate no fish. Patients who took a fish oil supplement experienced a 62% reduction in heart disease mortality.
Specific Foods That Lower Cholesterol
According to Harvard Health, these specific foods (not already mentioned above) may help lower cholesterol levels:
Are There Supplements To Help Lower Cholesterol Naturally?
Unfortunately, studies on herbs for cholesterol are lacking. (Funding a double-blind, randomized clinical trial is extremely expensive. Drug makers don’t have financial incentive to fund large tests on individual herbal ingredients.) Here are a few natural therapeutic herbs that have shown promise in research studies:
In a small study on mice, fed a high cholesterol diet, this fruit was shown to lower cholesterol.
In this study, ginger lowered both total cholesterol and triglycerides levels. And in another experiment, the spice reduced LDL cholesterol levels while also elevating HDL cholesterol.
Reishi is a famous Chinese medicinal herb. It’s actually a mushroom. In this study, hamsters given the fungus had lower total cholesterol levels of nearly 10%. Pigs given reishi had a drop of 20% for total cholesterol and 27% for LDL cholesterol.
Do you know the history of how statin drugs were developed? If so, it should come as no surprise that many kinds of mushrooms can help lower cholesterol. If you don’t know, here’s a quick backstory…
In 1966, Akira Endo, a young Japanese biochemist working at a pharmaceutical company, was researching enzymes in fungal extracts to reduce the amount of pulp in fruit juice. Endo’s observations of mushrooms led to the development of statin drugs.
Exercise to Lower Cholesterol
For some people, eating healthy and exercise does not lower serum cholesterol. However, for many people, exercise does have a beneficial effect on cholesterol markers. According to this study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), combining exercise with a low fat diet is better for your cholesterol than dieting alone.
Exercise can raise your level of HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind). In nonobese patients with high LDL and low HDL levels, the study showed that after one year of exercising and dieting, the patients had up to an 11% decrease in LDL levels. And in this study, also in the NEJM, the decrease in LDL levels was higher: up to 20%. The subjects walked or jogged 10 miles per week.
Reducing your cholesterol requires a holistic approach. Diet and exercise are the most effective natural ways to lower cholesterol. Taking certain nutritional supplements such as Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil may also help. For some people with comorbidity factors such as diabetes, obesity and/or a history of heart disease (either personally or familial), statin drugs may still be necessary.