More than 100 million Americans, or nearly one in three, have high cholesterol. Cholesterol readings higher than 200 mg/dL are generally considered excessive, bringing with it an increased chance of clogged arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Numerous prescription medicines are on the market – and there likely are more coming through the pharmaceutical pipeline – aimed at lowering cholesterol.
That’s fine, but it’s always good to ask ourselves, what can we do naturally to lower our cholesterol, short of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on cholesterol-lowering drugs? There is a sense of urgency here, too. By referring to natural methods to reducing cholesterol, by the way, we are referring to lifestyle and dietary changes that can make a real difference without need for a doctor’s written prescription.
Drugs such as statins have been found effective in lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, but it sometimes does that while accompanied by side effects such as muscle pain, memory loss and elevated enzymes, per pritikin.com, and, well, who wants that? Not you. Certainly not us.
Diet and Exercise?
If your physician, during your annual physical (you do get an annual physical, right?), finds that you have elevated cholesterol that begs remedial action, he or she will typically advise you to turn to diet and exercise as the means to get those numbers down. Simple, sensible answer, but perhaps one that needs more nuance.
How well exercise works is a source of debate among health-care professionals, with some questioning if exercise is really that effective. We think it is, albeit to varying degrees among different people, depending on individual makeup and metabolism. Either way, before starting an exercise regimen, always discuss it first with your doctor.
Following are six suggestions as to what you can eat or do (or not do) to improve your cholesterol readings – think of it as advice from the heart for the heart:
- Eat the right kinds of fat. Just like there are such things as good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, there also are good fats and bad fats. Say yes to polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, per health.harvard.edu, and no to trans fats and saturated fats. Some of the former include plant-derived oils such as canola, olive and grapeseed as well as fatty fish like tuna and salmon; while the latter include shrimp, lobster, red meat and butter.
- Feast on colorful fruits and vegetables. Think apples, carrots, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries and plums. These foods and others like them typically are packed with fiber as well as molecules known as sterols and stanols that have been deemed effective in blocking cholesterol.
- Speaking of fiber, fill yourself up on it. Oatmeal and beans are high in soluble fiber, which not only helps your body to ward off the absorption of cholesterol but also helps to give us that full feeling when we are eating, leaving us with a reduced craving for snacks later in the day.
- Exercise regularly. One practical suggestion is four or five days a week, preferably 30 or more minutes at a time, per mayoclinic.org. Walking, jogging, swimming, biking . . . or working out at the gym with weights and apparatuses; all under professional supervision, of course. Those who belong to the school of thought that exercise does indeed improve cholesterol note that consistent exercise at least raises HDL (“good” cholesterol). Undoubtedly, too, any accompanying weight loss should also help lower the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.
- Spice makes nice. Spices such as cinnamon, garlic, curcumin, ginger and black pepper can bring out the flavor in foods and take down excessive cholesterol readings. Research, cited at webmd.com, has found that eating a half to one whole clove of garlic a day can eventually reduce cholesterol by 9 percent.
- Use supplements, but wisely. Again, talk to your family physician first and do your research before diving into a vat of assorted nutritional supplements. But consider such supplements as cinnamon, sytrinol, omega-3 fats, vitamin D3 and a multivitamin to help get you started. Of course, if you are still not exercising or eating right, supplements can’t work “miracles” on their own.