What is Cholesterol?
It is a very common misconception that cholesterol is bad for you. Did you know, however, that your body would be completely dysfunctional without it? Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced and released into the bloodstream by liver cells. It is used to create and repair cells, aid in digestion, generate vitamin D in the skin, and develop steroidal hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and aldosterone. In addition, cholesterol is also beneficial in supplying energy to the body by causing neurons to respond quicker.
Cholesterol serves a mighty purpose and does so much for our body. Even so, just a little too much cholesterol (dietary or not) would be detrimental to our health and well-being.
Almost 50% of American adults have total cholesterol levels above 200 mg/d. This important risk factor places them at risk for cardiovascular disease.1Elevated cholesterol levels are also associated with increased risk of several cancers.2
Are My Numbers Good?
In order to know your cholesterol levels, you must take a test. Cholesterol home test kits are available at local pharmacies and typically contain a lancet (to prick your finger and obtain a droplet of blood) and test strips to place the blood on. Test strips then change color, and you will be able to match the color against the color guide and determine your levels. Alternatively, there are electronic cholesterol home test kits that render an electronic result. As always, you can visit your primary care physician and receive a complete cholesterol test (lipid panel or lipid profile). This will calculate the total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), and triglyceride levels.
Are drugs a safe route to lower cholesterol levels?
Statin drugs, created for the purpose of lowering high levels of fats, are not as effective in reducing cholesterol quite like an excellent plant based diet coupled with exercise can. After six weeks of taking cholesterol-lowering statin medications, cholesterol levels decrease by 26%. Despite this percentage, statins cause harmful side effects such as constipation, liver dysfunction, acute renal failure, cataracts, diabetes and rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown).4 In contrast, not only will a high nutrient diet lower cholesterol, it will also decrease heart disease risk by improving other factors such as glucose levels, blood pressure, inflammation, and body weight. In the end, a plant based diet is undoubtedly a safer route to lower cholesterol levels.
7 Natural & Fast Ways to Lower Cholesterol
1. Avoid all Meats & Dairy Products
According to the American Heart Association, cholesterol is found in animal products which includes meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, and eggs and only produced by the human liver!
As a result, it is unnecessary to consume additional outside sources of cholesterol since the body naturally produces all of the cholesterol it needs to maintain homeostasis and proper organ functioning.In fact, leading heart researchers concluded that “the optimal intake of cholesterol in the adult is probably zero.”5 Eating foods containing saturated fats increases the level of cholesterol in the bloodstream which can lead to a condition referred to as hyperlipidemia or hypercholesterolemia.6 Avoiding consumption of saturated fats from beef, pork, veal, poultry, cheese, butter, ice cream, and all other forms of dairy products can greatly reduce the risk for hyperlipidemia as well as reverse existing heart problems.7 Commonly eaten foods high in cholesterol include boiled egg (187 milligrams), chum salmon (147 milligrams), cod liver fish oil (78 grams per tablespoon), and bacon (97 grams per 100 grams of bacon). What’s in your kitchen?
Numerous studies, such as the one conducted at the Western Electric Co. near Chicago, have shown that the more cholesterol you ingest, the higher your risk of artery blockages, regardless of blood cholesterol level.9 A clinical study using a low-fat vegetarian diet was shown to actually reverse the disease by shrinking coronary artery blockages.10
2. Avoid Sugar & Refined Carbohydrates
Both substances stimulate the liver to produce more cholesterol and increase inflammation.The average American eats the equivalent of about 21 teaspoons of added sugar a day. The biggest culprit is sugar-sweetened beverages (soda, juice, sports drinks, tea, and coffee). Numerous tests have explored the drug-like effects of sugar on the human mind and body. Some studies have even described sugar as more addictive and robust than cocaine.20 A published study in the April 2010 edition of “The Journal of the American Medical Association” involved 8,495 people over the age of 18, and grouped them based on added sugar intake. The study found that as the added sugar intake increased among each group, the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) decreased and triglycerides increased. HDL is a form of “good” cholesterol, and triglycerides are a type of fat that, when high, pose a cardiovascular risk. The study also found that women – not men – who ate more added sugar were prone to have higher levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – the “bad” cholesterol.
3. Avoid alcohol
This substance also stimulates the liver to produce more cholesterol which increases inflammation and cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In a study published in Alcohol, researchers from Japan’s Hyogo College of Medicine assessed the impact of heavy drinking on a person’s LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and overall buildup of blood-borne fats. They found that both occasional heavy drinkers and regular heavy drinkers have significantly higher levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and significantly lower levels of “good” HDL cholesterol than non-drinkers.11
4. Avoid trans fats
These fats oxidize and increase LDL cholesterol, inflammation, and risk of cardiovascular disease. Trans fats are commonly found in doughnuts, muffins, cakes, and fried foods.In 1990, Mensink and Katan reported that trans fatty acids increased total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and decreased the “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.12
5. Add soluble fiber to diet
These may include a variety of foods such as oats, psyllium seed, fruits, beans, and other plant based fiber rich foods. Remember, add these into your breakfast or lunch meals to have positive cholesterol lowering effects on your body.
- Soluble fiber from oats, 38 has lowered cholesterol levels.13
- Soluble fiber from psyllium seed,39 has lowered cholesterol levels.14
- Soluble fiber from glucomannan and fruit pectin has lowered cholesterol levels.15
- Soluble fiber from beans has lowered cholesterol levels.16
6. Increase intake of Omega 3s
Omega 3 Rich Foods. Have 1 Tbsp. of ground flax or chia seeds. These can easily be incorporated into your breakfast meal.Flaxseeds contain the beneficial omega-3 ALA, lignans, flavonoids, sterols, and fiber. Clinical trials show that daily flaxseed consumption reduces total cholesterol by 6- 11%.17 Chia seeds are also rich in ALA and fiber, and taking a DHA supplement ensures adequacy of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, because conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA varies greatly among individuals.
7. Get Adequate Sunlight Daily
Researchers have estimated the duration of solar radiation exposure required in order to obtain the recommended doses of vitamin D. During the spring and summer seasons, 10 to 20 minutes in the sun are enough. In the winter months, two hours would be needed. Sunlight deficiency could increase blood cholesterol by allowing metabolism to progress to cholesterol synthesis rather than to vitamin D synthesis as would occur with greater amounts of sunlight exposure, and the increased concentration of blood cholesterol during the winter months, confirmed in this study, may well be due to reduced sunlight exposure. We show evidence that outdoor activity (gardening) is associated with a lower concentration of blood cholesterol in the summer but not in the winter.19
- Roger VL, Go AS, Lloyd-Jones DM, et al: Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics–2012 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation 2012;125:e2-e220.
- Hu J, La Vecchia C, de Groh M, et al: Dietary cholesterol intake and cancer. Ann Oncol 2012;23:491-500
- Frolkis JP, Pearce GL, Nambi V, et al: Statins do not meet expectations for lowering low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels when used in clinical practice. Am J Med 2002;113:625-629.
- Hippisley-Cox J, Coupland C: Unintended effects of statins in men and women in England and Wales: population based cohort study using the QResearch database. BMJ 2010;340:c2197.
- Moncada S, Martin JF, Higgs A. Symposium on regression of atherosclerosis. Eur J Clin Invest. 1993;23(7):385-398.
- [Prev Med 1995;24:308–15]
- [Lancet 1990;336:129–33.]
- Menotti A, Kromhout D, Blackburn H, et al: Food intake patterns and 25-year mortality from coronary heart disease: cross-cultural correlations in the Seven Countries Study. The Seven Countries Study Research Group. Eur J Epidemiol 1999;15:507-515.
- Shekelle RB, Stamler J. Dietary cholesterol and ischaemic heart disease. Lancet. 1989;1(8648):1177-1179.
- Ornish D, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW, et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease?Lancet. 1990;336:129-133.
- Department of Environmental and Preventive Medicine, Hyogo College of Medicine, Mukogawa-cho 1-1, Nishinomiya, Hyogo 663-8501, Japan
- Mensink RP, Katan MB, N Engl J Med. 1990 Aug 16; 323(7):439-45
- [JAMA 1992;267:3317–25]
- [ Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:472–9]
- [Clin Chim Acta 1977;79:471–7]
- Unconventional Sources of Dietary Fiber. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society, 1983.
- Bassett CM, Rodriguez-Leyva D, Pierce GN: Experimental and clinical research findings on the cardiovascular benefits of consuming flaxseed. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2009;34:965-974.
- Maria-Antonia Serrano, Javier Cañada, Juan Carlos Moreno, Gonzalo Gurrea. Solar ultraviolet doses and vitamin D in a northern mid-latitude. Science of The Total Environment, 2017; 574: 744 DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.09.102
- Department of Medicine, Blackburn Royal Infirmary, UK.
- Ahmed SH, Guillem K, Vandaele Y. Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2013 Jul;16(4):434-9. doi:
- 1097/MCO.0b013e328361c8b8. Review. PubMed PMID: 23719144.