High LDL cholesterol levels (“bad cholesterol”) and low HDL cholesterol levels (“good cholesterol”) are now recognized as being major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Fortunately, powerful prescription drugs are now available that allow doctors to control abnormal cholesterol levels in most patients. Some of these drugs – especially the statins – have been shown to significantly improve the prognosis of patients with coronary artery disease. Anyone with known coronary artery disease, or anyone with very high cholesterol levels, should be under a physician’s care to assure optimal control of their blood lipids.
But does everyone with an elevated cholesterol level need to resort to powerful prescription drugs? Not necessarily. There are ways to achieve moderate lowering of cholesterol levels short of using such drugs.
We will review several effective non-prescription means of lowering cholesterol. Some of these methods are very useful and safe, and simply ought to be part of any healthy lifestyle. Others require dietary changes that some might consider at least a little unusual, but appear to be safe and effective. And others, while effective, clearly entail some risk.
Is there a “magic potion” for lowering cholesterol?Countless purveyors of various magic potions for lowering cholesterol advertise on the radio, in magazines and newspapers, and on the Internet. These potions fall into two general categories – those that are completely worthless, and those that incorporate some of the non-prescription methods for reducing cholesterol that we are about to discuss. Often there is nothing wrong with purchasing items in the latter category, except for two things: a) if you buy the ingredients yourself, you will be paying far less than if you buy the magic potion; and b) if you buy the ingredients yourself, you will have much more control over the quantity and quality. Since most of this stuff is available in your corner grocery, it’s often just as easy to do it yourself.
When is it all right to consider non-prescription cholesterol lowering?It is entirely reasonable for otherwise healthy people with moderate or borderline elevations in cholesterol to try non-prescription methods before resorting to prescription drugs. Patients already taking prescription cholesterol-lowering drugs, and whose cholesterol levels remain a bit too high, might be able to gain better control by adding one or more non-prescription methods.
But we must emphasize – once again – that if you already have coronary artery disease, if your risk for coronary artery disease is high, or cholesterol levels are very high, you need to be under a doctor’s care to assure adequate treatment. In these cases, “do-it-yourself” could prove to be dangerous if not lethal.
Non-prescription methods for treating cholesterolHere is the list of non-prescription methods that have been demonstrated in scientific studies to be of use in improving abnormal cholesterol levels. I have divided the list into two parts: methods that are effective and safe, and methods that are effective but entail at least some risk. Click on the individual cholesterol-lowering methods for more details.
Effective and Safe
- Lifestyle changes: diet, exercise, weight loss
- Plant sterols (sterol esters)
- Soy products
- Fibers: oats, psyllium