Cholesterol is necessary for the human body, but high levels can increase the risk of heart disease. Not all cholesterol is created equal—LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is known as “bad cholesterol”, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is known as “good cholesterol” and VLDL (very-low-density lipoproteins) carry triglycerides in the blood. “If you have high cholesterol, it can cause heart attack and stroke,” says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. “And the way it does that is it gets into our arteries and builds up blockages. Now people can also have vascular dementia. So high cholesterol can also cause dementia.” If you have high cholesterol, here are five ways to lower it – without medication. Read on – and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss it Sure signs you’ve already had COVID.
There’s no way around it – if you want to lower your cholesterol, you need to eat a healthy, balanced diet – the Mediterranean diet is supported by numerous studies as ideal for heart health. “High cholesterol clogs your arteries,” says Julia Zumpano, DR. “Eat in a way that keeps the arteries open and unobstructed, because restricted blood flow leads to heart attacks… The amount of research supporting the Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular health is phenomenal. It has been proven to be very effective for managing heart disease.”
Regular exercise is not only good for your overall health and happiness, it can also help lower your cholesterol. “Exercise is a great place to start if you’re trying to lower bad cholesterol,” says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. “But it doesn’t stop there. Combining exercise with healthier food and lifestyle choices has the most impact.”
Here are the American Heart Association‘s recommendations for adults:
- Get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of the two, preferably spread throughout the week.
- Add moderate to high intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least 2 days per week.
- Spend less time sitting. Even light-intensity activities can offset some of the risks of being sedentary.
- Reap even more benefits by being active for at least 300 minutes (5 hours) per week.
- Gradually increase the amount and intensity over time.
When it comes to lowering cholesterol, moderating — if not completely eliminating — your alcohol intake can make a difference. In one experiment, people who stopped drinking for five weeks not only showed incredible health improvements across the board, but also a drop of nearly 5% in their blood cholesterol. “What you have is a pretty average group of British people who don’t consider themselves heavy drinkers, yet stopping drinking for a month changes liver fat, cholesterol and blood sugar, helping them lose weight,” said Kevin Moore, consultant in liver health services at University College London Medical School. “If someone had a health product that did all that in one month, they’d rake it in.”
Losing weight is closely linked to a healthy diet and exercise – and it makes a huge difference when it comes to unhealthy cholesterol. “If you are overweight or obese, shed the extra pounds. Weight loss helps lower LDL cholesterol. Even a small to moderate weight loss — just 10 to 20 pounds — can have an impact,” Kate Patton, MEd, RD , CCSD, LD, and exercise physiologist Michael Crawford, MS, told the Cleveland Clinic.
If you’re serious about lowering cholesterol, don’t smoke – it is linked to higher LDL cholesterol. “Smoking is so bad for your heart, and smoking is really one of the worst things we can do, not just to your heart, but to your brain and your lungs and all sorts of things,” says Dr. Cho. “And I know one of the sad statistics is that younger people start smoking and think vaping is safe, but it really isn’t.”
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-supported information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan