Lowering Serum Cholesterol
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | January 14, 2005

One of the most frequently asked questions we get at Better Life is how to lower serum cholesterol without taking medication. The answer is to adopt a lifestyle that is conducive to normal blood lipids. What’s normal? Total cholesterol (T-Chol) less than 200 mg/dl, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-Chol)--the “lethal cholesterol”--less than 100 mg/dl, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-Chol)--the “healthy cholesterol”--more than 40 mg/dl. For a more in-depth explanation of these numbers, please refer to the Newsletter from 2003, Serum Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Disease.

Top 10 lists are always popular, so here are the top 10 ways to improve your cholesterol levels. This list is an excerpt from our upcoming booklet Frequently Asked Questions Volume 3--available in March 2005--which provides lifestyle and supplement recommendations for 50 health conditions.

1. Decrease saturated fat intake. Saturated fats are found in all meats, skin from poultry, and tropical oils such as palm and coconut oil. Hydrogenated fats also count as saturated fat. You can’t eliminate them completely, but work at reducing the amount you eat.

2. Decrease refined carbohydrates. When you eat too many refined carbohydrates (such as those in cake, candy, cookies, soda, and pasta), they can be converted to saturated fat by the body, and that can raise cholesterol levels.

3. Increase fruit and vegetable intake. Research shows that as the servings of fruits and vegetables increase, T-Chol and especially LDL decreases (1). Your mother was right: eat your veggies!

4. Eat 2-3 servings of cold-water fish such as tuna, salmon, or sardines every week. The omega-3 fatty acids help reduce cholesterol levels. Just don’t deep-fat fry the fish or add a lot of mayonnaise to your tuna salad.

5. Exercise regularly. This is the only sure way to increase HDL-Chol levels. The more intense the exercise, the more HDL-Chol levels go up.

6. Quit smoking. Cigarette smoking raises T-Chol and destroys HDL-Chol. Find a way to quit--whatever it takes--but do it.

7. Take a fish oil supplement every day. Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically the EPA found in fish oil, can help lower cholesterol levels; a good target is 2-3 grams per day. Taking more should be done only after consulting with your healthcare professional.

8. Drink green tea every day--hot or cold--or take a dietary supplement with the phytonutrient theaflavin in it. Both have been shown to lower cholesterol--especially LDL-Chol (2).

9. Add almonds and plant sterols to your diet every day (3). Almonds contain omega-3 fatty acids and are high in fiber. Plant sterols are found in margarines such as Smart Balance.

10. Use psyllium fiber three times per day. Recent research has shown that the fiber in Metamucil and similar products can lower both T-Chol and LDL-Chol--and constipation will be the least of your problems!

Here’s a bonus: if you have weight to lose, lose it. Carrying extra body fat sets the body on a cycle of producing more saturated fat and subsequently more cholesterol than we need. You can lower your cholesterol without losing weight, but it’s easier if you do.

Two things: work with your doctor as you make these lifestyle changes. Getting serum lipids tested regularly is very important so that you’ll know what is and isn’t effective. Your physician should know what you’re doing to deal with the issue. You may wish to print this Newsletter and take it with you as you discuss these changes.

Second, and most importantly, if you’ve done all you can and your cholesterol is still too high, discuss taking a medication such as a statin to lower it. It’s more important to get your cholesterol in the normal range than it is to be stubborn about taking medications. That’s the better life way.

  1. Djousse, L., et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and LDL cholesterol: the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004; 79(2):213-7.

  2. David J. Maron, et al. Cholesterol-lowering effect of a theaflavin-enriched green tea extract: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med; 2003.163(12):1448-53.

  3. Jenkins DJ, et al. Effects of a dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods vs. lovastatin on serum lipids and C-reactive protein. JAMA. 2003;290(4):502-10.
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