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Your diet has a huge impact on your cholesterol levels.
“The research is rock solid,” says Mark Drucker, MD, Medical Director of the Center for Advanced Medicine. “Consumption of too many calories and too many unhealthy saturated fats along with too much sugar and starch leads to high imbalanced cholesterol levels in most people.” (Read More: Popular Foods Known to cause high cholesterol, according to science.)
But let’s say you’ve already tried eating oatmeal and other high-fiber foods, as well as fish and flaxseed for their beneficial omega-3s, you’ve limited saturated fats and omitted trans fats, and (say at least) you do it daily work out. You may even have lost weight, which can improve your lipids, the term for cholesterol or blood lipids. And now your doctor recommends a statin medication to help lower your cholesterol levels. But you don’t want to take any other prescription drug.
What should one try next before signing up for statins? An over-the-counter dietary supplement.
We asked registered dietitians and other nutritionists about nutritional supplements they recommend to their high cholesterol customers and found a variety available at your local grocery store or pharmacy that you can try. For more information on over-the-counter diet supplements, see The Best Diet Supplements For People Over 50.
You may have heard that antioxidant vitamins counter the oxidative damage to cells from oxygenated free radicals, which increase your risk for a variety of chronic diseases, from obesity to cardiovascular disease. Part of their action against heart disease is to lower cholesterol, says Trista Best, MS, RD, a Registered Dieter at Balance One Supplements. “Antioxidants are plant compounds that stimulate the immune system and are also responsible for reducing inflammation by preventing platelets from clumping together,” says Best. “If this damage continues, cholesterol rises and the sticky substance can stick to the walls of the arteries be liable.” It is best for people with high cholesterol to try supplementing with antioxidant specific supplements like NOW’s Super Antioxidants.
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Phytosterols (plant sterol and santol esters), which are found in many vegetables, fruits, whole grain products, beans and seeds, are plant substances that partially block the absorption of cholesterol in the digestive tract when consumed, so that less gets into the bloodstream. The amount you get from food is relatively small, but diet supplements can increase your intake in the effective range, which is linked to a 10% reduction in total and LDL cholesterol, says a registered nutritionist Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, the executive director of global nutrition education and training for Herbalife Nutrition. Phytosterol supplements should be taken two to three times a day just before or with meals and snacks, she says.
They know that oats, beans, and barley are good sources of cholesterol-lowering fiber, especially the soluble kind that binds to cholesterol in the digestive tract and decreases its absorption into the bloodstream. But what if you can’t eat oatmeal and beans every day? Take a soluble fiber supplement. You don’t even have to take them in capsule form. “They’re easy to incorporate into your diet by stirring them (the powdered nutritional supplement) into juices, yogurt, and other foods,” said Bowerman, a former assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. Also, consider another type of soluble fiber called beta-glucans, she says. They are found in oats, yeast and mushrooms and can also be taken in the form of dietary supplements. A meta-analysis of controlled studies of oat beta-glucan supplements found that a dose of 3.5 grams per day significantly increased LDL cholesterol as well as ApoB (apolipoprotein B), the part of the cholesterol that clogs the arteries the most lowered.
“One of the best supplements is niacin, a B vitamin that has been shown to lower bad cholesterol and improve good HDL,” says Morgyn Clair, MS, RD, Nutritionist at Sprint Kitchen. You can get it from your doctor, or it’s easy to get over the counter, she says. Niacin also reduces triglycerides, another blood fat that has been linked to heart disease. The vitamin works by containing lipoproteins that are released from triglycerides in adipose tissue. One side effect to be aware of: In certain doses, niacin can cause redness and itching of the skin, which is uncomfortable but harmless.
“The first [supplement for high cholesterol] Many people think of fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids), “says Dr. Drucker. However, he notes that while taking this supplement has heart health benefits, there isn’t necessarily enough evidence that it is directly related to lowering the heart health “Studies of fish oil supplements are inconclusive about their benefits, mainly because the studies don’t consider people’s overall diet and lifestyle, but fish oil is unquestionably heart-healthy.”
Drucker also recommends Chlorella, a freshwater alga that contains omega-3 fatty acids and is available in dietary supplements such as Sun chlorella, which also contains antioxidants and fiber.
Research has long shown that fresh garlic helps lower total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides, but “You can also take a therapeutic dose of garlic in supplement form,” says Carrie Lam, MD, a board of doctors certified in anti-aging and regenerative medicine with Dr. Lam coaching. “Aim for at least 6,000 mcg of allicin (the amino acid in garlic) per day, which is about 4 cloves.” Be aware that garlic has blood thinning effects and should not be taken in large amounts when taking blood thinners, warns Dr. Lam. By the way, it is a good idea to consult your family doctor before taking any new dietary supplement.
Another natural way to fight LDL cholesterol is with a cup of tea. Epidemiological studies have shown that drinking several cups of tea a day lowers LDL cholesterol. But you don’t even have to pull to reap the benefits, you can swallow a green tea supplement. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, people with moderately high cholesterol who took a dietary supplement containing extracts of certain teas, including green teas, saw a 16% reduction in their “bad” LDL cholesterol, says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, Nutritionist for Zhou Nutrition and a member of Eat This, Not That! Medical expert panel. A meta-analysis of 31 studies involving a total of 3,321 people also suggests the benefits of green tea for heart health. This study linked green tea drinking to significantly lower total cholesterol and LDL, but the practice showed no effect on HDL cholesterol. To learn more about these benefits, check out What Happens To Your Heart When You Drink Tea.
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