• Achillea wilhelmsii,
One of the most significant discoveries in preventive medicine is that elevated levels of cholesterol in the blood accelerate
Cholesterol does not directly clog arteries like grease clogs pipes. The current theory is that elevated levels of cholesterol irritate the walls of blood vessels and cause them to undergo harmful changes. Because most cholesterol is manufactured by the body itself, dietary sources of cholesterol (such as eggs) are not usually the most important problem. The relative proportion of unsaturated fats (from plants) and saturated fats (mainly from animal products) in the diet is more significant.
When the consequences of elevated cholesterol were first being researched, total cholesterol was the only measurement considered. Today, the overall
is taken into account. LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and
This change in emphasis has thrown some long-standing recommendations into confusion. For example, reducing total fat intake generally decreases total cholesterol. On this basis, medical authorities long ago adopted a policy of recommending low-fat diets. However, when you take into account other lipid measurements, it is now clear that reducing fat intake is not the clear blessing it first appeared to be. Low-fat diets improve total and LDL cholesterol levels, but worsen HDL and triglyceride levels. Conversely, low-carb, high-fat diets tend to raise levels of LDL and total cholesterol, but reduce triglycerides and raise HDL. Some researchers use these effects as “proof” that the low-fat diet is healthier,
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
There are several herbs and supplements that appear to help lower cholesterol levels. For some (such as stanols/sterols, vitamin B 3 , fiber, and soy), the evidence is sufficiently strong to have produced mainstream acceptance.
Note: If your primary problem is elevated triglycerides, see the High Triglycerides
Plant stanol esters reduce serum cholesterol levels by inhibiting cholesterol absorption.
Individuals taking statin drugs may benefit from using stanols/sterols as well.
Stanols or sterols also appear to be safe and effective in helping to improve cholesterol profile in people with type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Niacin (Vitamin B 3 )
The common vitamin niacin, also called vitamin B
, is an accepted medical treatment for elevated cholesterol with solid science behind it. Several well-designed, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have found that niacin reduced LDL cholesterol by approximately 10% and triglycerides by 25%, and raised HDL cholesterol by 20%-30%.
Niacin appears to be a safe and effective treatment for high cholesterol in people with diabetes as well, and (contrary to previous reports) does not seem to raise blood sugar levels.
Combining high-dose niacin with statin drugs (the most effective medications for high cholesterol) further improves lipid profile by raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
A growing body of evidence, however, suggests that the risk is relatively slight in individuals with healthy kidneys. Furthermore, even much lower doses of niacin than the usual dose given to improve cholesterol levels (100 mg versus 1,000 mg or more) may provide a similar benefit.
Nonetheless, it is not safe to try this combination except under close physician supervision. Rhabdomyolysis can be fatal.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Water-soluble fiber supplements (such as
psyllium, hydroxymethylcellulose and its relatives, and
Soy protein appears capable of modestly lowering total cholesterol, LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and triglycerides by approximately 5%-15%.
Although it was once thought that isoflavones are the active ingredients in soy responsible for improving cholesterol profile, evidence suggests otherwise.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Although primarily used to stimulate gallbladder function, artichoke leaf may be helpful for high cholesterol as well.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 143 individuals with elevated cholesterol, artichoke leaf extract significantly improved cholesterol readings.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
There are several other promising alternative treatments for high cholesterol. Approaches that specifically lower triglycerides (such as fish oil
Numerous studies enrolling a total of many thousands of individuals purported to show that the substance
Red yeast rice is a traditional Chinese medicinal substance that is made by fermenting a type of yeast called Monascus purpureus over rice. It contains cholesterol-lowering chemicals in the
In a 12-month study of 223 postmenopausal women,
Krill are tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that flourish in the Antarctic Ocean and provide food for numerous aquatic animals.
Inconsistent evidence hints that
A growing body of evidence suggests that increased consumption of nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts may improve lipid profile and reduce heart disease risk, presumably because of their high monounsaturated fat content.
Olive oil is known to improve cholesterol profile. Up until recently, it has been thought that the monounsaturated fats in olive oil are its primary active ingredients. However, some evidence hints that polyphenols in olive oil (particularly, virgin olive oil) may play a positive role as well.
Some but not all studies suggest that "friendly" bacteria (
Dark chocolate contains substances related to those in black and green tea, and it too has shown some promise for improving cholesterol profile.
Other preliminary double-blind trials suggest potential benefit with the Iranian herb
A comprehensive review combining the results of 14 studies found that
Weaker, and in some cases inconsistent, evidence suggests potential benefit with
Studies on whether the mineral
Rice bran oil, like other vegetables oils, appears to favorably change lipid profile as well as reduce heart disease risk in other ways.
Substances related to vitamin E called
A number of studies published in the 1980s and 1990s reported that various
Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution
In addition, various herbs and supplements may interact adversely with drugs used to treat high cholesterol. For more information on this potential risk, see the individual drug article in the
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Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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