How To Lower Your Cholesterol Naturally, According To Heart Experts

Nearly 94 million Americans over the age of 20 — about 40% of the US population — have high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

High blood cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States, and stroke — the fifth leading cause of death in the country, the CDC notes.

The main risk factors for high cholesterol include an unhealthy diet high in saturated and trans fats, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption, chronic stress, smoking or tobacco smoke, and obesity.

Understanding Cholesterol: The Good and the Bad

“Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s absorbed from the gut during digestion,” says Dr. Elizabeth Klodas, A

Johns Hopkins Cardiologist by training and founder of Step One Foods. “It’s also made internally by the liver (which accounts for about 80% of total cholesterol synthesis) and in every cell in your body,” she adds.

Cholesterol is the building block of your cell membranes responsible for maintaining their integrity and fluidity. In addition, “it serves as a precursor to the synthesis of various hormones as well as the bile, which helps us digest food,” explains Dr. Klodas.

Two types of lipoproteins transport cholesterol to and from cells – high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

Most of the cholesterol circulating in your body is LDL. It’s often referred to as “bad cholesterol” because LDL contributes to the build-up of fatty deposits in your arteries (atherosclerosis). “This narrows the arteries and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease (PAD),” states the American Heart Association (AHA).

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HDL is now commonly known as the “good cholesterol” because high HDL levels can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, CDC says. “HDL carries LDL (bad) cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where the LDL is broken down and excreted from the body,” notes AHA. “But HDL cholesterol doesn’t completely eliminate LDL cholesterol. Only a third to a quarter of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL,” it adds.

High LDL or low HDL combined with high levels of triglycerides (a type of fat that stores excess calories from food and provides energy for your body) is linked to fatty deposits in artery walls, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, AHA says .

The hidden health saboteur

What makes high cholesterol more concerning is that it is an insidious health hazard that usually has no visible symptoms.

“The only outwardly visible signs of very high cholesterol are fatty cholesterol deposits called xanthelasma, usually on the eyelids or around the eyes,” says Dr. Steven Gundry, cardiothoracic surgeon and author of New York Times Best seller, The Plant Paradox.

It is therefore important that you have your cholesterol levels checked regularly, ideally every four to six years.

“People with cardiovascular disease and those at risk may need more frequent screening for their cholesterol levels and other risk factors,” notes AHA.

Five proven tips to lower cholesterol naturally

While certain risk factors such as family history, gender, and age cannot be controlled, incorporating heart-healthy habits into your daily routine can keep these numbers within a healthy range. This is because your cholesterol levels are heavily influenced by your lifestyle, especially your diet, says Dr. Klodas.

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Here are five ways to naturally lower your cholesterol, especially LDL, according to heart specialists:

  • Charge fiber. “Fiber from whole plant foods helps bind bile in the digestive system, which serves as a natural pathway for LDL elimination,” says Dr. Klodas. The AHA recommends getting 25-30 grams of fiber from whole foods daily. Some of the best natural sources of fiber are avocado, apple, berries, Brussels sprouts, dates, whole grains like oats and barley, nuts and seeds.
  • Add phytosterols to your diet. “Sterols (natural compounds found in plants) compete with bile cholesterol for reabsorption, helping to lower LDL,” says Dr. Klodas. According to the National Lipid Association (NLA), consuming at least two grams of plant sterols per day can lower your LDL-C by 5 to 10%. Foods like spinach, kale, carrots, olive oil, sweet potatoes, strawberries, and sunflower seeds are all good sources of phytosterols.
  • Stick to unsaturated fats. LDL is cleared from the bloodstream by LDL receptors, which are primarily located in the liver. “The more LDL receptors there are and the more active they are, the more efficient the LDL-removal process is — resulting in lower LDL levels,” says Dr. Klodas. Saturated fats (fats that are solid at room temperature), such as those found in fatty cuts of meat, butter, lard, cheese and coconut oil, down-regulate LDL receptors, leading to high circulating LDL, the board-certified cardiologist explains. Favoring unsaturated fats (fats that are liquid at room temperature) instead may upregulate these receptors, which will consequently help lower your LDL levels, she adds. Some of the best sources of heart-healthy unsaturated fats are avocado, olive oil, peanut butter, walnuts, almonds, oily fish, sunflower oil, sesame seeds, and flaxseed.
  • Avoid simple carbohydrates. It’s important to avoid highly processed carbohydrates and added sugars because these foods increase insulin levels, which in turn stimulate HMG-CoA reductase (an enzyme in the liver), says Dr. Klodas. “When HMG-CoA reductase is ramped up, LDL production skyrockets,” explains the cardiologist. So try to limit your intake of ultra-processed foods like frozen pizza, french fries, white bread, processed desserts like cookies, cakes, and donuts, refined white pasta, and highly processed meats like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs.
  • Manage your triglyceride levels. “Triglycerides are the first form of fat formed from sugar and starch,” says Dr. Gundry. A high triglyceride level (200 mg/dL and above) is a risk factor for heart disease. Ideally, you should aim to keep your triglycerides below 100 mg/dL. Healthy lifestyle improvements such as more exercise, less alcohol, quitting smoking, and eliminating trans fats can help lower both triglyceride and LDL levels.
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