In the United States, a majority of adults and nearly all diabetics eventually are advised they need to take prescription medication for cholesterol. While sometimes medication absolutely is required, there are many borderline cases that respond to at-home management of high cholesterol. Whichever method you choose, be sure you verify your results with at-home cholesterol testing as well as regular checkups at the doctor’s office.
Here are the three things everyone needs to know about how to lower cholesterol.
- Lowering cholesterol is less about what you eat than it is about how much you eat.
- Lower cholesterol readings may not necessarily show up on your next lab visit.
- Some natural products have a lot of benefit for your heart, but don’t necessarily lower your cholesterol.
Only about 15 per cent of the body’s cholesterol is digested from food. Over 85 per cent of the body’s cholesterol is made “in-house,” primarily in the liver, the lining of the intestines, and the gonads, although every cell in the body is capable of making the cholesterol it needs from triglycerides.
Triglycerides are the transport form of fat, enabling fatty acids to travel through a watery bloodstream, and the storage form of sugar, the way fat cells pack away excess calories from high-carb diets. Since 85 per cent of your cholesterol is made from triglycerides, it’s more productive to focus on lowering your triglycerides than it is to try to avoid eating foods that have cholesterol in them. Limiting your total calories is at least as important, and usually more important, than avoiding high-cholesterol foods.
LDL cholesterol levels, in particular, go up as the temperature of your home or workplace goes up. For every 5° C/9° F the temperature rises, LDL levels go up about 10 mg/dl (0.26 mmol/L). If you work outdoors during the summer, changes in your cholesterol levels may be extreme. So if you start a program or a medication to lower your cholesterol in late spring and it doesn’t seem to be working in early summer, the problem may be changes in the seasons, not a failure of your diet or prescription medication.
Fish oil, for example, can indirectly lower your cholesterol if you happen to have started with high triglycerides. Lab tests usually don’t pick this improvement up because LDL cholesterol is not measured directly. It’s estimated as a percentage of the “leftovers” after triglycerides and HDL are taken out your total blood lipids. The way the equation works, a big improvement in your triglycerides, either by diet or by taking products like fish oil, can lead to an apparent rise in LDL. But over a period of months-or if your doctor measures apo-A and apo-B, which are better indicators of cardiovascular risk-the effects on your cholesterol will be apparent.
Two herbal remedies have measurable effects on cholesterol. Red yeast rice, which makes the exact same chemical, lovastatin, that is used to make the cholesterol medication Mevacor, will almost always lower both total cholesterol and LDL, although it is no better for your body than Mevacor or other stating drugs. The herb hawthorn, on the other hand, does not lower cholesterol very much, but it lowers blood pressure and slows but strengthens the heartbeat, which are also important to your heart health.