5 Natural Ways To Lower Cholesterol, What Does or Doesn’t Work

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Although there are many cholesterol lowering drugs on the market, some people prefer to lower cholesterol naturally or to complement their medication with supplements. Along with a healthful, fiber-rich diet and regular physical exercise, you can help reduce the artery-clogging nuisance in your body in several ways.

However, not every natural option works or has yet been studied enough to determine the extent of its benefits. That said, here are five alternatives to consider and the questions that surround them.

Artichoke leaf extract
Studies of artichoke leaf extract (Cynara scolymus) for lowering cholesterol have yielded positive results. The supplement is believed to work by breaking down cholesterol to bile salts, and they in turn boost production of bile, which transports toxins out of the liver.

One study from the University of Reading found that 1,280 mg of artichoke leaf extract taken daily for three months resulted in an average 4.2 percent decline in cholesterol while those in the control group saw an increase of 1.9 percent. Another trial showed an 18.5 percent drop in total cholesterol after 42 days of taking the supplement.

A suggested dose of artichoke leaf extract for managing high cholesterol is 600 mg three times a day or 900 mg twice daily. Do not use artichoke leaf extract if you have gallstone or bile duct obstruction.

Fenugreek
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-gracecum) is an herb that has been valued since ancient times for both its culinary and medicinal attributes. Among its reported medicinal benefits are an ability to relieve gastrointestinal distress and reduce cholesterol levels.

However, scientific studies in humans to prove the latter claim are lacking, although animal studies have been done. In one such recent study, scientists administered fenugreek extract to rats with induced high lipid levels.

The animals treated with the herb showed a significant decline in total cholesterol and triglycerides as well as a rise in HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Other animal studies have showed similar results.

A 2003 review included an analysis of six studies that used fenugreek. In the five trials that used fenugreek seeds, there were significant reductions in total cholesterol between 15 percent and 33 percent. The one trial using fenugreek leaves showed a nonsignificant decline of 9 percent in total cholesterol after a single dose.

Fish oil
Much has been reported on the association between fish oil (with its omega-3 content—eicosapaentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) and lipid levels. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends fish oil supplements, especially for people who have high triglycerides (a type of lipid).

However, it’s important to note that studies in humans generally show that fish oil usually helps reduce triglyceride levels (at doses of 3 grams or greater per day) but can actually cause low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad) cholesterol levels to rise while having little to no positive impact on total cholesterol. This has been demonstrated in various studies, including a new one published in Clinical Pediatrics.

In that study, 111 children ages 8 to 18 years were treated with fish oil supplements. Sixty participants took 500 to 1,000 mg per day of fish oil while the other 51 did not. Triglyceride levels declined in the fish oil group but had no effect on total cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or good) cholesterol.

Read more about high cholesterol in kids

Of interest are the findings of a review published recently in Atherosclerosis. The author, who is from the New York University School of Medicine Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, reported that while formulas containing EPA and DHA “have been shown to increase LDL” cholesterol, another type of formula called icosapent ethyl, which contains high-purity EPA ethyl ester, can reduce triglycerides without raising LDL levels.

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Therefore, before you take fish oil or omega-3 supplements, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider. This natural supplement may or may not be helpful for you, depending on your various cholesterol and triglyceride levels and heart health status.

Garlic
Garlic is often cited as an effective natural remedy for various health issues, such as boosting the immune system (e.g., fighting off colds and flu), lowering blood pressure, and reducing inflammation. When it comes to working on high cholesterol, the study findings are varied.

However, in a recent meta-analysis of 39 studies, the reviewers found that garlic reduced total cholesterol by an average of 17 mg/dL and LDL cholesterol by an average of 9 mg/dL when people used garlic for longer than two months. This is important since an 8 percent drop in total cholesterol is associated with a 38 percent reduction in the risk of experiencing a coronary event among people age 50.

A suggested dosage of garlic is 600 to 1,200 mg daily of aged garlic extract or 2 to 4 grams daily of fresh, minced garlic. Since garlic can thin the blood, do not use garlic if you have a bleeding disorder or if you are scheduled to undergo surgery.

Red yeast rice
Red yeast rice can be effective in lowering cholesterol because it contains monacolin K, a substance found in the statin drug lovastatin (Mevacor). In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has ruled that red yeast rice supplements that contain more than a trace of monacolin K cannot be sold since that would constitute selling unapproved drugs.

However, red yeast rice supplements that contain effective levels of monacolin K are available in other areas of the world. In addition, numerous studies have shown this supplement to lower both total cholesterol and bad (low-density lipoprotein, LDL) cholesterol.

For example, a recent study published in BMC Alternative and Complementary Medicine, a group of 52 doctors and their spouses who all had a total cholesterol level of more than 200 mg/dL were randomly assigned to take a red yeast rice extract or placebo for eight weeks. The participants who took red yeast rice received 5,025 mg of monacolin K per capsule for a total of 10,050 mg daily, which is more than is available in most commercial products.

In the red yeast rice group, LDL cholesterol declined by 36 mg/dL (22%) while total cholesterol dropped by 37 mg/dL (15%), yet there were no changes in the control group. Side effects were similar between the two groups, with muscle aches affecting four and two participants in the red yeast rice and control groups, respectively, and likewise for muscle cramps (3 and 1), muscle weakness (0 and 1), and muscle stiffness (2 and 0).

The authors warned, however, that while red yeast rice “may be an attractive and relatively well studied alternative” treatment choice, healthcare consumers should know “that the actual content of commercially available preparations is not assured by governmental regulations, which raises effectiveness and safety issues.” Outside the United States, the three main formulas of red yeast rice supplements are Zhitai, Cholestin or Hypocol, and Xuezhikang.

Read more about red yeast rice and cholesterol

The bottom line
Several natural supplements may be helpful in reducing total cholesterol as well as having an impact on other lipids such as LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. A high-fiber diet that contains fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, and nuts and seeds also is recommended.

A number of studies have also pointed out specific benefits of certain foods for lowering cholesterol. Some of those include:

  • Nuts. Walnuts, pistachios, and other nuts contain a variety of important components including plant sterols. These latter substances can help lower cholesterol by interfering with the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol
  • Dried apples. A study from Florida State University found that postmenopausal women who consumed 75 grams of dried apples daily showed a 13 percent decline in total cholesterol and a 24 percent decline in LDL after six months

Much is still not known about the potential benefits of various natural supplements to help lower cholesterol levels. However, interested healthcare consumers who want to lower cholesterol naturally are encouraged to explore the options, follow the research, and try those that fit their needs with the help of a knowledgeable professional.

SOURCES
Bundy R et al. Artichoke leaf extract (Cynara scolymus) reduces plasma cholesterol in otherwise healthy hypercholesterolemic adults. Phytomedicine 2008 Sep; 15(9): 668-75
Chahal N et al. Effectiveness of omega-3 polysaturated fatty acids (fish oil) supplementation for treating hypertriglyceridemia in children and adolescents. Clinical Pediatrics 2014 Mar 18
Chai SC et al. Daily apple versus dried plum: impact on cardiovascular disease risk factors in postmenopausal women. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2012 Aug; 112(8): 1158-68
Kumar P, Bhandari U. Protective effect of Trigonella foenum-graecum Linn. On monosodium glutamate-induced dyslipidemia and oxidative stress in rats. Indian Journal of Pharmacology 2013 Mar-Apr; 45(2): 136-40
Ried K et al. Effect of garlic on serum lipid: an updated meta-analysis. Nutrition Review 2013 May; 71(5): 282-99
Thompson Coon JS, Ernst E. Herbs for serum cholesterol reduction: a systematic view. Journal of Family Practice 2003 Jun; 52 (6): 468-78
Verhoeven V et al. Red yeast rice lowers cholesterol in physicians—a double blind, placebo controlled randomized trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013 Jul 18; 13(1): 178
Weintraub H. Update on marine omega-3 fatty acids: management of dyslipidemia and current omega-3 treatment options. Atherosclerosis 2013 Oct; 230(2): 381-89

Image: Morguefile

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