There are many alternative treatments for lowering cholesterol naturally, especially taking a look at your diet and what you are consuming on a daily basis; but before you add or adjust any supplement or consider alternative therapy to your daily regimen, talk to your health care provider. Some supplements may interact with other medication you may be taking or have dangerous side effects.
Some of the herbal and nutritional supplements said to lower cholesterol include:
Garlic: According to some studies, garlic may decrease blood levels of total cholesterol by a few percentage points. Other studies, however, suggest that it may not be as beneficial as once thought. It may also have significant side effects and/or interactions with certain medications. Garlic may prolong bleeding and blood clotting time, so garlic and garlic supplements should not be consumed prior to surgery and should not be taken with blood-thinning drugs such as Coumadin (warfarin).
Niacin: Niacin is a B vitamin that not only works to lower levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (fats) in the blood, but also raises HDL cholesterol (the good kind) which protects the heart by gathering up LDL cholesterol in the blood and carrying it to the liver to be packaged for excretion. The more HDL cholesterol people have in their blood, the more LDL will be excreted. Niacin in doses high enough to have this effect must be prescribed by a health care provider due to potential side effects. Too much Niacin can cause skin flushing, dizziness, irregular heartbeat and liver damage.
Guggulipid: Guggulipid is the gum resin of the mukul myrrh tree. In clinical studies performed in India, guggulipid significantly reduced blood levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. The enthusiasm for using guggulipid as a cholesterol-lowering herbal agent, however, diminished after the publication of negative results from a clinical trial in the U.S. Further research is necessary to determine the safety and efficacy of this herb.
Red Yeast Rice: Red yeast rice has been found to lower cholesterol in studies and was previously found in the over-the-counter supplement Cholestin. However, in 2001, FDA took Cholestin off the shelf because it contained lovastatin, a compound found in the cholesterol prescription medication Mevacor. Reformulated “Cholestin” no longer contains red yeast rice. Other red yeast rice-containing supplements currently available in U.S. contain very small amounts of lovastatin. Their effectiveness is still questionable.
Policosanol: Produced from sugar cane, policosanol was found to be effective in lowering LDL cholesterol in several trials. Most policosanol supplements found in the U.S., including the reformulated Cholestin, contain policosanol extracted from beeswax and not the sugar cane policosanol. There is no evidence that policosanol extracted from beeswax can lower cholesterol. Additional studies on sugar cane policosanol are needed to determine its effectiveness in lowering cholesterol.
Other herbal products: The results of several studies suggest fenugreek seeds and leaves, artichoke leaf extract, yarrow, and holy basil all may help lower cholesterol. These and other commonly used herbs and spices — including ginger, turmeric, and rosemary — are being investigated for their potential beneficial effects relating to coronary disease prevention.
Dietary Approaches to Lowering Cholesterol
Fiber: Only plant foods (vegetables, fruits, legumes, unrefined grains) contain dietary fiber. The soluble fiber found in foods such as oat bran, barley, psyllium seeds, flax seed meal, apples, citrus fruits, lentils and beans are most effective in lowering cholesterol.
Soybeans: Substituting soybeans or soy protein for other proteins has been shown to prevent coronary heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Soy protein is present in tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy yogurt, edamame, soy nuts, and many other natural food products made from soybeans.
Phytosterols: Phytosterols (plant sterol and stanol esters) are compounds found in small amounts in foods such as whole grains as well as in many vegetables, fruits, and vegetable oils. They decrease LDL cholesterol, mostly by interfering with the intestinal absorption of cholesterol. Phytosterols can be found in spreads (like cholesterol-lowering margarines such as Smart Balance), dressings for salads, and dietary supplements. Additional phytosterol-fortified foods include Minute Maid Heart Wise orange juice, Nature Valley Healthy Heart chewy granola bars, CocoVia chocolates, Rice Dream Heartwise rice drink, and Lifetime low-fat cheese.
Dietary fiber, soybeans, and phytosterols decrease cholesterol levels by different mechanisms. Therefore, it is not surprising that the combined dietary intake of these foods and other plant substances, along with a low intake of saturated fats, is more effective at reducing cholesterol levels than each individual substance alone.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may also help lower cholesterol. Aim for at least two servings of fresh, wild, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and sardines per week. Other dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flax seed and walnuts.
Omega-3 fatty acids: These essential fatty acids have a favorable effect on cholesterol. Supplement sources include fish oil capsules, flaxseed and flax seed oil. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the rate at which the liver produces LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. They have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body; decrease the growth of plaque in the arteries, and aid in thinning blood. If you are considering taking omega-3 fatty acids, you should first discuss with your doctor if omega-3 fatty acid supplements are right for you (especially if you are currently taking blood-thinning medication).
Avoid partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated vegetable oils. These man-made oils are sources of trans-fatty acids are known to increase LDL cholesterol, lower heart-protecting HDL (good) cholesterol, and increase the inflammatory response in the body. You can find trans-fats listed on the Nutrition Facts panel of packaged foods and most fast food and popular chain restaurants. Minimize consumption of trans-fatty acid-containing foods.
Sources: Mayo Clinic, The American Heart Association, and the Journal of Nutrition