How to Lower Your Cholesterol Naturally Without Medication
How to Lower Cholesterol Naturally Without Medication
If you wish to know how to lower cholesterol naturally and without medication, it is important to get some basic background information on cholesterol first.
This way, you will have a deeper understanding of how the natural tips described here can work in helping to lower cholesterol levels.
First though, take a few minutes to listen to Dr. Morrell on the subject of preventing and lowering high cholesterol. It really is a rather excellent summary.
Although he refers to the British NHS near the end, the principles he alludes to are true for whichever health authority you come under...
What is Cholesterol and Where Does it Come From?
What Cholesterol Is
The word cholesterol comes from the Greek: "chole" meaning bile and "stereos" meaning stiff or solid.
Cholesterol exists in all animals—including us of course—and is a waxy-like lipid (fat) which is mostly produced in the liver and helps the body to carry out several important functions. These are things such as:
- the making and maintenance of the body's cells outer membranes
- the production of bile salts for the digestive process
- the conversion of sunlight on the skin to vitamin D
- the creation of the sex hormones, androgens, estrogens
- the production of adrenal gland hormones, cortisol, corticosterone, aldosterone.
- the insulation of nerve fibers
So you see, cholesterol is not a bad thing at all, on the contrary, it is vital for your survival. Seriously, you would die without it.
Rather, the problem arises when your cholesterol levels are too high which can lead to several health issues including heart disease and stroke.
Where Cholesterol Comes From
The two sources of cholesterol are your own body and the food you consume.
This may come as a surprise to many people under the mistaken impression that cholesterol comes only from the food they eat.
In fact, even if you never ate any food with cholesterol, your body would still produce the 1,000 mg or so of cholesterol it needs for proper functioning.
Cholesterol is found in every cell in your body. It is mainly produced in your liver with some also made in the small intestine and, of course, your body's cells.
The liver is so good at producing cholesterol it can even supplement the amount produced by the cells themselves when required. This is especially important for those cells that require a lot of cholesterol, e.g. in the production of sex hormones.
Around 85% of the total cholesterol found in your body is actually made by your body (called blood cholesterol) and the rest through the food you eat (dietary cholesterol).
Fortunately, a healthy body is very good at regulating the amount of cholesterol it produces to meet its needs.
The Food You Eat
Dietary cholesterol accounts for around 15% of your total cholesterol in a healthy body. This comes from animal sources, e.g. meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products since animal cells have cholesterol in the same way that we humans have.
Plant-type foods such as vegetables and fruit do not contain cholesterol.
But, there are other non-animal foods that, whilst they may not contain cholesterol, contain trans fatty acid, called "trans-fat."
Although a small amount of trans fat exists in nature, mainly in animal-based food, it can be found in abundance in processed foods...
These are foods where vegetable oils have been deliberately made into solid fats (partial hydrogenation) to enhance their shelf-life, flavor and texture. Typical of these are margarine, shortening, crackers, biscuits, cookies, frozen pizzas and snack foods, etc.
The problem is that trans-fat increases your LDL and triglyceride levels and decreases your HDL levels. This causes high cholesterol (see "Good Cholesterol v Bad Cholesterol" below).
The Cholesterol Balancing Act
The total cholesterol in your blood is made up of the cholesterol produced by your body plus cholesterol from food minus how much your body uses or excretes.
i.e. Total = body + diet - used/excreted
So your total cholesterol could increase by, for example, your body not excreting enough or a high cholesterol diet or your body producing too much cholesterol or combinations of those.
And whilst your body is very good at regulating itself to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, some of the variables can be so severe that it just cannot cope, leading to high cholesterol.
Good Cholesterol v Bad Cholesterol
Cholesterol travels around the body in the blood. But, blood is water-based whilst cholesterol is oil-based and, as we know from school, oil and water do not mix.
So that, if left to its own devices in your bloodstream, cholesterol would just congeal into lumpy masses which your cells could not use.
However, your body is very clever and packages-up your cholesterol with other fats into protein-covered molecules called "lipoproteins" and uses these "vehicles" to transport it from the liver to the cells and back again.
There are several lipoproteins, but the 2 main types are: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL molecules have a low protein / high fat ratio so they are referred to as low-density, whilst HDLs have a high protein / low fat ratio and therefore are high density carriers.
Both HDLs and LDLs circulate in your blood at the same time. But, they have two entirely different jobs to perform.
LDL "Bad" Cholesterol
LDLs transport the cholesterol from the liver via the blood vessels to the different parts of your body when needed. Generally speaking, LDLs carry some 60% to 70% of your body's cholesterol.
The problem occurs when you have more cholesterol in your bloodstream than is required by your body. When this happens, the LDL "vehicles" dump excess cholesterol in your arteries.
These deposits (called plaque) build up over time, progressively narrowing the arteries and reducing blood flow to the heart leading to heart disease.
When the artery becomes completely blocked a heart attack is the outcome. And should the blood flow to any part of the brain be greatly reduced or cut-off altogether then a stroke will occur.
Note: Although LDL is usually referred to as "bad" cholesterol, in reality this is a bit of a misnomer. You absolutely need LDLs to carry cholesterol to where it is needed. You cannot do without them. Remember, "high" LDL levels are the problem, not LDLs per se.
HDL "Good" Cholesterol
The job of HDLs is to gather up as much excess cholesterol left by LDLs as possible and carry it away from your body's tissue and cells back to your liver.
Back at the liver, the excess cholesterol returned is used to produce bile acids for your digestive system, for recycling and for excretion.
So the higher your HDL levels, the less LDL levels you will have in your blood.
You can see then why HDL is called "good cholesterol" and LDL is looked-on as "bad cholesterol" and why high HDL cholesterol levels are good but high LDL cholesterol levels are bad.
Put simply, the higher the level of HDL we have and the lower the level of LDL, the lower the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
How is High Cholesterol Diagnosed?
Your doctor / physician will diagnose high cholesterol by means of a blood test.
Because it is easy and cheap to do, the initial test only measures your total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. These two measures give a general overview of your risk. If your results show that the two measurements are within recommended target levels, then no other tests are usually required.
However, if one of those measurements is outside the norm (see tables below), you may be asked to take a more detailed blood test. This second test measures your total, HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, plus triglycerides, and provides a more accurate risk assessment.
Note: Triglycerides are other types of fats made in the body and which also have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease. So these are measured as well.
Some factors affecting triglyceride levels are:
- being obese / overweight
- lack of sufficient physical activity
- excessive alcohol consumption
- diet high in carbohydrates
Normal Cholesterol Values
Recommended cholesterol values are a way of indicating those cholesterol levels that pose the least risk of heart disease and stroke.
The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) has published tables regarding normal and high values of cholesterol. And these have been endorsed by the American Heart Association and a number of other health bodies.
It thus makes sense to do everything in your power to get within and stay within the recommended ranges shown in the following tables...
Note: They contain values measured in mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) and mmol/L (millimoles per liter). Your physician will explain which system is used in your country if you do not already know this.
Total Cholesterol Values
200 - 239
5.1 - 6.1
LDL Cholesterol Values
Near / Above Optimum
100 - 129
2.6 - 3.3
130 - 159
3.4 - 4.1
160 - 189
4.2 - 4.8
HDL Cholesterol Values
Low / Undesirable
High / Desirable
151 - 199
1.78 - 2.2
200 - 499
2.3 - 5.6
What Are the Symptoms of High Cholesterol?
High cholesterol does not have any noticeable symptoms so that very many people are living their lives oblivious to the fact that they have too-high cholesterol and at risk of heart disease and stroke.
This is why it is often referred to as the "silent killer."
Causes of High Cholesterol
High cholesterol causes are well known and well documented. These are things such as:
Diets that are high in cholesterol, saturated fats and trans-fats can lead to high cholesterol.
2. Being Overweight
Being overweight can help to increase triglycerides which increases cholesterol. And being overweight can decrease HDL "good cholesterol."
3. Not Enough Daily Physical Activity
Insufficient exercise is known to lower HDL cholesterol, which we do not want. We need this to stay high.
Cigarettes are another thing that reduces HDL cholesterol.
5. Family History of High Cholesterol
If you have a family history of high cholesterol, all other things being equal, you will have a higher risk of suffering the same.
Some medicines are known to lower HDL cholesterol and increase triglycerides, thus increasing overall cholesterol levels. Typical of these are corticosteroids, beta-blockers, diuretics, and estrogen.
Certain diseases such as kidney disease, kidney problems and hypothyroidism can increase the risk of high cholesterol.
After age 20 and as you grow older your cholesterol levels rise naturally.
Rising cholesterol levels in men usually level off after age 50. In women, it rises much more slowly until the menopause from which it rises to around male levels.
Dangers of High Cholesterol
The main dangers of high cholesterol are heart disease, heart attack and stroke...
When plaque builds up in the arteries as described earlier it reduces the effective blood flow through the arteries.
If this happens in a coronary artery then the heart does not get enough oxygen and nutrients it needs to stay strong and healthy.
This causes heart disease, which is an overarching term for a number of different issues such as angina (chest pain / discomfort) and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), etc.
However, should the coronary artery become completely blocked then a heart attack will result.
When the blockage is in a carotid artery -- the arteries going to your brain on each side of your neck -- then a stroke will occur. Even where the artery is not completely blocked, but the blood flow is sufficiently interrupted, you can still suffer a stroke.
These are life-threatening events that need to be taken very seriously. Which is why maintaining your cholesterol levels at the recommended values is so important.
Who Has an Increased Risk of High Cholesterol?
Those with an increased risk of high cholesterol are people who:
- eat too much foods containing saturated fat, trans fat and high cholesterol
- are overweight / obese
- lead a sedentary lifestyle
- are on certain drugs that can increase cholesterol
- have health issues that can increase cholesterol
- have a family history of high cholesterol
- are men aged 45 and over
- are women aged 55 and over
High Cholesterol Treatment
If diagnosed with high cholesterol, and the levels are not severe, your doctor will probably advise lifestyle changes such as changing your diet, stopping smoking and increasing your exercise levels.
However, if your levels are particularly high, or if you have an existing health condition that warrants it, your doctor may opt for cholesterol-reducing medication alongside lifestyle changes to reduce the risk as fast as possible.
They may also advise medication if, having started with lifestyle changes only, your levels have not decreased sufficiently within 6 months of using lifestyle changes, or whatever timescale they feel is appropriate for your particular case.
Statins are the most powerful of the cholesterol-lowering drugs and the most widely used today. Included in this group are atorvastatin, fluvastatin, pravastatin, lovastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin.
They are able to decrease the amount of cholesterol made by your body, lower LDL cholesterol, reduce triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol.
But they do have some side effects, some examples of which are: muscle pain / weakness, joint pain, digestion problems, memory loss, increased blood sugar, and liver damage.
Your doctor will be able to explain how common (or rare) each side effect is and how you may be affected given your particular medical history.
How to Lower Your Cholesterol Naturally Without Medication
In order to lower cholesterol naturally without medication, we are really talking about the lifestyle changes that will help to reduce cholesterol. Your doctor would have advised whether to use lifestyle changes only or to use them in conjunction with medication such as statins.
Right then, here are four ways to lower your cholesterol naturally:
1. Avoid These Foods to Help Lower Cholesterol
There are foods that you should avoid if you can or, at the very least, reduce the amount of them that you consume:-
Foods With High Amounts of Saturated Fat and Cholesterol
These are animal foods such as red meat with marbling (flecks and streaks of fat within the meat), poultry (especially with the skin on) and dairy products such as full-fat milk, eggs, cheese and sour cream, etc.
Foods Containing Trans-Fats
These are foods such as cakes, cookies, crackers, chips (crisps in UK), margarine, shortening, fried foods, frozen food, breakfast cereals, energy bars, commercially baked products, etc.
Meats High in Fat
Typically these are foods such as sausage, bacon, liver, kidneys, ribs, steak, pastrami, corned beef, and other processed meats.
Fast foods are normally high in total fat, trans-fats, hydrogenated fats and saturated fats. So try to avoid things like hamburgers, fried chicken, tacos, fries, and so on.
2. Foods You Can Eat to Help Lower Cholesterol
After reading the types of foods to avoid, you may be losing the will to live! But fear nought, there are plenty of healthy foods that you can eat to help reduce your cholesterol.
Select Lean Low-fat Meat
If you wish to continue to eat meat, then ensure that you only eat lean pork, lamb, beef, veal etc. Remember, too, to take the skin off chicken and other poultry meat. And reduce portion sizes and frequency too.
In the main, fish cholesterol levels are low to moderate. But because they contain omega-3 essential fatty acids, their health benefits are considered to outweigh their cholesterol risk. Which is why the American Heart Association recommends eating grilled or baked fish twice per week.
These fats are found in a variety of food and oils and are considered good healthy fats. They can also reduce bad cholesterol. Typical foods are: avocado, olives, nuts, peanut butter, and oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, peanut oil and canola oil.
These are also good fats and can be found in fatty fish (e.g. tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, and sardines), tofu, soy-milk, walnuts, flax-seed, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds. And in oils such as soybean and corn oil.
Foods Rich in Fiber
Fiber-rich food is known to help decrease cholesterol and is beneficial to your immune system. So eat plenty varieties of berries, beans, potatoes, fruit, vegetables (particularly green leafy vegetables), bran, whole-grains, seeds, and nuts, etc.
Important: Before making any significant changes to your diet, you must consult your doctor / physician who will advise on a diet that matches your individual circumstances.
3. Daily Exercise to Lower Cholesterol
We know that being overweight causes raised cholesterol levels. And studies indicate that exercising helps to increase good HDL cholesterol levels and lower bad LDL levels in the body, which is exactly the outcome we are looking for.
For some time now experts have held that 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise per day helps to lower cholesterol. Typical exercises being walking, jogging, cycling, etc. And tests show that exercises of this nature can definitely lower cholesterol.
However, more recent studies have shown that more intense workouts are even more effective and lower cholesterol even further.
So aim for 30 to 60 minutes of intense daily exercise. Don't use the excuse that you don't have time: that's a cop-out. You can rearrange your day to fit-in at least 30 minutes of exercise.
Brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, tennis, baseball, basketball, netball, racquetball, etc., are all things that you could fit into your schedule. Choose which works best for you and stick with it. But start slowly and build up over time as you become fitter.
Important: If you haven't been doing any real exercise for a period of time, then you should definitely consult with your doctor / physician before you start. They will be able to advise on a safe exercise program to suit your individual circumstances.
4. Vitamins to Help Lower Cholesterol
There are certain vitamins that help to prevent and alleviate high cholesterol...
Vitamin C can help to lower cholesterol by inhibiting the enzyme that helps to produce cholesterol in your body. In addition, research tells us that regular vitamin C helps to heal arteries damaged by high cholesterol.
In essence, when vitamin C values are low your body produces more cholesterol. When your vitamin C levels are high, less cholesterol is produced.
You can increase your vitamin C through diet, in such foods as chili peppers, bell peppers, fresh herbs (especially thyme and parsley), dark green leafy vegetables, oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, red cabbage, and so on.
But you can also take vitamin C in supplemental form. However, if you are considering this, it's best to consult your doctor / physician about the correct dosage for you.
The vitamin E family consists of 2 types -- tocopherols and tocotrienols -- each of which is further broken down into 4 forms -- alpha, beta, gamma and delta.
Delta tocotrienol is noted for having the strongest cholesterol-lowering properties.
A study by the Kenneth Jones Heart Foundation found that the delta tocotrienol form of vitamin E lowered LDL cholesterol by an average 25%. It also showed that this form of vitamin E could inhibit the build-up of plaque in the arteries.
Another study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2005, showed that eating almonds can increase vitamin E levels in the body and lower cholesterol levels.
Other dietary sources of vitamin E are sunflower seeds, paprika, red chili powder, pine nuts, peanuts, dried herbs (especially oregano, basil, parsley, thyme, sage, and cumin), olives, spinach, and dried apricots
For supplements, ensure that the supplement you take is of the delta tocotrienol form. And, of course, talk to your doctor / physician before embarking on a course.
Vitamin B9 - Folic Acid
Folic acid is one of the B group of vitamins and research has shown that folic acid can help to restore the responsiveness of blood vessels.
In simple terms this means the ability to improve the flexibility of blood vessels so that they expand and contract more efficiently, thus decreasing the risk of clogged arteries.
So, for people with high cholesterol, folic acid can help to minimize the damaging effects of high cholesterol and thus reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Dietary sources of folic acid are foods such as; asparagus, broccoli, spinach, brown rice, chickpeas, brussel sprouts, peas, kidney beans, whole grains, fortified cereals, bread, root vegetables, green leafy vegetables, salmon and liver.
If you are considering using supplements to lower your cholesterol, consult with your doctor / physician first.
Cholesterol is rightly called the "silent killer." So you need to do everything in your power to keep your levels within healthy limits as advised by your doctor / physician.
This means working closely with them, not only in terms of any medication they may prescribe, but also on the dietary and lifestyle changes that are necessary to reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
I hope you have found this article insightful and that it has given you the impetus to make the necessary lifestyle changes that could help save your life.
The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to be a substitute for proper medical diagnosis, treatment or advice, and you should not assume that it is. Always consult your health-care provider / physician / doctor before taking any medications, natural remedies, supplements, or making any major changes to your diet.