Health & Fitness

Evidence-based ways to lower your cholesterol naturally

Discover effective strategies to lower your cholesterol levels and improve your heart health.

Did you know that the right amount of cholesterol is actually vital to your health? If your cholesterol is elevated, you’re not alone. Around 1 in 3 adults have high cholesterol, and it tends to increase with age. Luckily, there are plenty of simple lifestyle changes you can start implementing today to bring your cholesterol levels under control naturally, and we’re going to share them with you here.

Getting routine blood work to check your cholesterol and triglyceride levels is crucial to understanding your cholesterol so you can get it under control. Healthy cholesterol levels help preserve heart function and overall health and wellbeing so that you can feel energized and live your best life. 

Read on to learn exactly what cholesterol is, the types of cholesterol, what causes it to be elevated, and actions and habit changes you can adopt to help decrease cholesterol organically.

What is cholesterol? 

Cholesterol is a fatty substance transported by the blood all over the body. There are two sources of cholesterol; 75% of it is produced by the liver, while the remaining 25% comes from food. Animal products such as eggs, beef, pork, cheese, and butter all contain dietary cholesterol. 

Depending on the type, having too high or too low a cholesterol level can pose health issues. In Germany, about 60.5 % of adult females and 56.6% of adult males have cholesterol levels outside of the healthy range.

Though cholesterol is necessary for health, high cholesterol – or hypercholesterolemia – can increase the chances of heart and liver issues. 

What are the different types of cholesterol?

Cholesterol and triglycerides are fats that cannot move through the bloodstream alone. Lipoproteins help transport cholesterol and triglycerides throughout the bloodstream. 

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol:  LDL cholesterol is also called “bad” cholesterol because it causes fat to gather in blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque in arteries. Keeping LDL lab values low is vital for a healthy heart. 
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol : HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol because its job is to pick up fatty plaque buildup and transport it to the liver so the body can get rid of it. The goal is to have high HDL cholesterol, due to its association with lower risk of blood vessel clogging. One study showed a 22% lower risk of coronary heart disease with every 15mg/dl increase in HDL. Females generally have higher HDL cholesterol levels than males due to a female sex hormone known as estrogen. 
  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are fats that attach to very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) and chylomicrons – another type of lipoprotein – in the bloodstream. Low levels are best for health because the VLDL and chylomicrons can lead to plaque build-up in the blood vessels.

Recent research even shows that low HDL and high triglyceride levels can predict the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. 

What causes high cholesterol?

Several factors can lead to elevated cholesterol levels.

Risk factors include:

  • age (55+ years for females and 45+ years for males)
  • having low HDL-cholesterol
  • smoking
  • diabetes
  • having high blood pressure
  • family history of heart disease

How to test your cholesterol levels

The best way to check your cholesterol levels is by testing the following biomarkers, which are an integral part of an Aware blood test:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol:  LDL – sometimes called “bad” cholesterol – causes fat to mass in blood vessels, leading to plaque buildup. 
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol : HDL, or “good” cholesterol, clears fatty plaque buildup from the blood so the body can get rid of it. 
  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are fats that attach to very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) and chylomicrons – another type of lipoprotein – in the bloodstream. 
  • Total cholesterol: You can calculate your total cholesterol by adding your levels of HDL, LDL, and 20% of your triglycerides. 
  • HDL/LDL ratio: To calculate your cholesterol ratio, you simply divide your total cholesterol number by your HDL cholesterol number.

What can you do to improve your cholesterol naturally?

There are a large number of cholesterol-lowering medications available that medical professionals prescribe every day. However, people can make lifestyle changes to help manage cholesterol levels in addition to – or instead of – taking medication . Here are six ways to improve your cholesterol naturally. 

1. Aim for at least 30 grams (g) of dietary fiber each day

There are two types of dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble. They’re classified by whether or not they break down in water. 

Soluble fiber has shown to be beneficial in lowering cholesterol levels. Your small intestine cannot break down soluble fiber. However, gut bacteria in the large intestine ferment it, turning it into short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). 

SCFA are significant because their production positively influences gut bacteria, inducing cholesterol-lowering. Generally, dietary fiber reduces cholesterol absorption and encourages its exit from your body. A 2016 review of studies found that soluble fiber reduced LDL cholesterol by 5-10%.

Most countries suggest adults eat 25-35 g of fiber daily. In Germany, the recommendation is for people to aim for 30g of fiber per day.

High fiber foods include:

  • Raspberries 1 cup - 9 g
  • Split peas ½ cup - 8 g
  • Oats 1 cup - 8 g
  • Lentils ½ cup - 7 g
  • Muesli 1 cup - 6.5 g
  • Avocado ½ fruit - 4.6 g
  • Almonds ¼ cup - 4.5 g
  • Apple 3 ounces - 4 g  
  • Flaxseeds, 2 tablespoons - 4 g
  • Pears 1 cup sliced - 4 g
  • Potato 6.3cm in diameter with skin - 2.7 g

2. Swap saturated fats for healthier fats in your eating plan

Saturated fat is found in meat, dairy, baked goods, fried foods, butter, and cheese. 

A lot of research has been conducted into saturated fat’s effects on the body because they can raise LDL cholesterol levels, increasing the chances of atherosclerosis and heart disease.

The European Society of Cardiology recommends limiting saturated fat-containing foods to less than 10% of your daily calorie intake. This means if you eat 2000 calories each day, 200 calories should be from saturated fat. That’s 22 g of saturated fat daily – the equivalent of about six slices of pork bacon. 

A UK Biobank study of 114,285 adults found a 19-21% increase in heart disease when meat saturated fat intake went up by 5% of total calories. However, other research shows that consuming dairy – which also contains saturated fat – may have a protective or neutral effect on heart health.

The dietary fats that promote good heart health are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). These heart-healthy fats are found in plants and seafood and contain beneficial compounds and antioxidants. 

Walnuts, seeds, and canola oil all contain PUFAs, while MUFAs are found in fish such as herring and mackerel, cashews, peanuts, and avocados. 

A 2015 review of 15 studies found that substituting saturated fats for polyunsaturated fats lowers a person’s chances of developing heart disease. A growing body of research continues to demonstrate that monounsaturated fats enhance cholesterol levels and lower the risk of poor heart health.

You’ll find polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in our heart-healthy fats list. 

Try this one thing: 

Substitute a saturated fat for a heart-healthy fat from the list below on your next trip to the grocery store.

Heart-healthy fats:

  • Plant oils: Olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil
  • Fish: Salmon, sardines, tuna
  • Nuts and nut butters: Walnuts, almonds, peanut butter
  • Seeds: Flaxseeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Fruit: Avocado
  • Soy: Tofu
  • Dairy: Yogurt, cottage cheese

Simple swaps of high saturated fat foods for heart-healthy fat foods:

  • Butter: Olive oil or avocado oil
  • Bacon: Canadian bacon or smoked salmon
  • Fried chicken: Grilled, oven-baked, or air-fried chicken
  • Chips: Air-popped popcorn or pretzels
  • Croissant: Wholegrain English muffin
  • Beef rib-eye: Salmon filet 

Fun fact:

Did you know that something as simple as eating an apple a day might help lower your cholesterol? According to a 2020 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating two apples a day may be effective in lowering it.  Researchers believe the high fiber and micronutrient content of apples—including beneficial compounds called polyphenols—may be behind the benefits.

3. Rethink your drink

Drinks like fruit juices, sodas, and energy drinks contain sugar, which can lead to health troubles if consumed too much.

A 2020 study linked consuming drinks with added sugars to adverse changes in HDL cholesterol and triglycerides, along with a greater chance of lips falling outside the healthy ranges.

You can enhance your heart health by sticking to mainly drinking water, milk, unsweetened tea, and no added sugar sparkling water.

Try this one thing: 

Carry a water bottle with you everywhere you go one day this week. 

4. Move more often

The European Society of Cardiology recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise such as cycling, running, speed walking, or swimming each week. 

Any high-intensity exercises, like extreme sports and road biking, should be limited to  75 minutes weekly, split into 4-5 days.

A 2018 review of 11 studies found low to moderate exercise intensity led to significant reductions in cholesterol levels, including total and LDL cholesterol.

It helps to choose a type of exercise you’ll enjoy doing because you’ll be more likely to do it consistently. If you’re ready to get your heart pumping, consider asking a friend or family member to exercise with you.

If you have a history of heart problems, it's best to talk to a doctor before engaging in more physical activity.

Try this one thing: 

Find a fun form of exercise for 15-30 minutes at least once this week. 

5. Manage your alcohol intake

If your alcohol consumption is above the weekly recommended intake, it can be a good idea to consider cutting back for better health in the long run. 

There’s a connection between heavy drinking, high triglyceride levels, pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis), and fatty liver disease.

For optimal health, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether, but if that’s not practical for your lifestyle, that’s okay. The first step of lowering your alcohol intake may be switching up your usual order. You might try beer or wine next time if you tend to drink hard liquor. 

The recommendations are to limit alcohol to no more than 14 units a week and to spread your drinking over several days. 

  • One shot of spirits (25ml): 1 unit
  • One shot of gin, rum, or tequila: 1.4 units
  • One standard wine glass (175 ml): 2.1 units
  • One pint of lite beer (<3.6%): 2 units
  • One point of higher-strength beer (5.2%+): 3 units

Try this one thing: 

Keep track of how many drinks you have while socializing in order to become more aware of what’s typical for you. Next time you go out, try to drink half of that amount. 

6. Get help with tossing out tobacco

Smoking makes healthy blood flow more difficult, which makes your heart work harder to pump blood around your body, increasing the chances of strokes and heart attacks. 

Smoking also lowers your HDL cholesterol levels, making it challenging for the body to remove fatty build-up from the arteries.

Quitting smoking is no easy feat, so finding support to help you start smoking less is a good start. 

Try this one thing: 

Try smoking one less cigarette per day this week and instead, chew gum.

The bottom line

  • Cholesterol is a fat-like waxy substance found in every cell of the body which performs many essential functions. Keeping your cholesterol levels healthy can preserve your heart and metabolic health.
  • Though there are medications to help lower cholesterol, there are also healthy lifestyle changes you can start making today that can impact your cholesterol levels for the better. 
  • By eating more fiber and healthy fats, drinking less sugary beverages and more water, engaging in physical activity, limiting alcohol intake, and avoiding smoking, you can help keep your cholesterol levels within the healthy range.

If you're ready to check, track, and improve your health and well-being, become an Aware member today.

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