- To lower your cholesterol naturally, you can improve your diet, get more exercise, lose weight, quit smoking and limit alcohol.
- If you can’t effectively lower your cholesterol with natural treatments, you can also talk to your doctor about medications such as statins.
- This article was medically reviewed by John Osborne, MD, PhD, and the Director of Cardiology for the Dallas-based State of the Heart Cardiology.
- This article is part of Insider’s guide to High Cholesterol.
About a third of American adults have
† This can clog your arteries and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.
There are a few different measurements for cholesterol. You actually want higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) — the good cholesterol — and lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), triglycerides, and total cholesterol.
That’s because HDL helps get rid of LDL cholesterol and can lower your overall levels. This is what healthy cholesterol levels should look like:
If your cholesterol is too high, there are many lifestyle changes your doctor will recommend before or in addition to medication. Here’s how to lower your cholesterol naturally.
1. Improve your diet
Eating a heart-healthy diet can help control your cholesterol levels. To lower LDL and raise HDL, you should eat the following foods:
- Fruits and vegetables such as leafy greens and avocados
- Lean proteins such as chicken breast or fish
- Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa
Both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet target these foods and can help lower your cholesterol. For example, a 2020 study published in the British Medical Journal found that following the:
reduced LDL cholesterol levels in . for eight weeks
In addition, a 2019 study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics found that eating fish twice a week and eating “lots of fruits and vegetables” can lower LDL cholesterol for 12 weeks.
In addition, eating foods that contain cholesterol — such as eggs — aren’t as bad as eating foods rich in saturated fats, says Kevin Ferentz, MD, chair of the Division of Family Medicine and chief physician at GBMC Health Partners Primary Care in Towson. Maryland.
“One thing we’ve learned recently is that eating foods high in cholesterol — like eggs — doesn’t actually raise your cholesterol,” he says. “But eating foods high in fat — especially saturated fats and trans fats — can raise your cholesterol, especially LDL.”
Learn about the best and worst foods to eat to lower cholesterol.
2. Get More Exercise
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exercise is an important way to lower cholesterol. That’s because exercise can raise HDL levels, Ferentz says.
For example, a 2007 scientific review of 25 studies found that people who exercised, even without dietary changes or medical intervention, increased HDL levels by 2.53 mg/dL.
In general, Ferentz says that people trying to lower cholesterol naturally should get the normally recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week. And every little bit can help.
“Any exercise — even a brisk walk during lunch — has health benefits,” Ferentz says.
To learn more about the best exercises for heart health, read.
3. Try to lose weight
can have a direct impact on LDL cholesterol levels. For example, every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of weight loss is associated with a drop in LDL levels of 0.8 mg/dL, according to a 2017 scientific review published in the British Medical Journal.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that women who lost about 8% of their weight through a diet high in healthy fats, including walnuts, improved their LDL levels.
“This weight loss may not bring these women to their ideal weight, but it did significantly reduce their risk of cardiovascular and other diseases,” Cheryl Rock, PhD, the study’s principal investigator, said in a news release. “This level of weight loss is achievable and can have a dramatic impact on their quality of life.”
Ferentz emphasized that a relatively small weight loss can have a big impact on cholesterol. “Losing just 10 pounds can significantly lower your total cholesterol,” he says.
Learn more about how to lose weight and lose weight safely.
4. Don’t smoke
Smoking can increase your LDL levels, while also lowering your HDL levels. For example, a small 2018 study of 57 people published in The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine found that long-term smokers’ LDL levels were significantly higher compared to non-smokers.
And it’s not just cigarettes that can be a risk factor — a 2019 study published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research found that hookah (water pipe) smoking was also associated with elevated LDL levels.
On the other hand, quitting smoking can improve HDL levels. A 2012 study published in the American Heart Journal found that HDL increased by 5.2% over the course of a year in people who quit smoking.
There is little research on marijuana and cholesterol, but Ferentz suspects the effects are the same. You should avoid smoking marijuana if you want to lower your cholesterol, he says.
Learn about the early research on how marijuana may affect the heart.
5. Limit alcohol
The American Heart Association says alcohol consumption should be limited or eliminated for optimal heart health. Ferentz recommends limiting alcohol to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Moderate alcohol consumption can improve HDL levels — and having some red wine may even be good for your heart. But drinking too much alcohol can negatively affect your heart health.
Binge drinking is especially harmful: A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that adult men who drank (defined as 5 or more drinks in a row) had higher LDL levels than those who didn’t .
Read more about how alcohol affects the heart.
Overall, eating healthier, exercising more and losing weight can all help lower cholesterol without the use of medication, according to a 2013 scientific review published in Current Cardiology Reviews.
While it’s possible to lower your cholesterol levels naturally, it can be difficult, Ferentz says.
“Unfortunately, many people are unable to make the lifestyle changes necessary to lower their cholesterol,” he says. Losing weight is especially effective, according to him, but certainly not easy.
If you can’t lower your cholesterol naturally, talk to your doctor about medications that can help lower cholesterol, such as statins.