Your GP says you have high cholesterol. You are looking for effective strategies for reducing cholesterol levels and you’ve got six months to work on your diet. Could taking supplements over this time help?
While you can’t rely solely on supplements to control your cholesterol, there’s substantial evidence suggesting that certain supplements, combined with a healthy diet, can make a significant difference.
Understanding the Cholesterol Conundrum
Cholesterol concerns revolve around two main types of lipoproteins circulating in your bloodstream, each impacting your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often dubbed “bad” cholesterol, ferries cholesterol from the liver to cells throughout the body. Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol can result in arterial plaque buildup, raising the risk of heart disease and stroke.
On the other hand, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, known as “good” cholesterol, helps eliminate excess cholesterol from the bloodstream, shuttling it back to the liver for processing and disposal. Higher HDL cholesterol levels are associated with reduced heart disease and stroke risk.
The Power of Diet – Strategies for Reducing Cholesterol Levels
Diet plays a pivotal role in reducing blood cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol. Favoring unsaturated (“healthy”) fats like those found in olive oil and avocado while reducing saturated (“unhealthy”) fats, common in animal products, and trans fats, prevalent in certain processed foods, forms the cornerstone of a heart-healthy diet.
Embrace Soluble Fiber
Boosting your intake of soluble fiber through diet significantly reduces both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, creating a gel-like substance in your digestive tract. This gel binds to cholesterol molecules, preventing their absorption into the bloodstream and promoting elimination through feces. Sources of soluble fiber include fruits, vegetables, oats, barley, beans, and lentils.
Supplements for Cholesterol Management
In addition to dietary adjustments, various supplements can aid in cholesterol control:
1. Psyllium Fiber: Among the supplements, psyllium fiber stands out with robust evidence supporting its cholesterol-lowering effects. Numerous high-quality randomized controlled trials have shown that consuming about 10g of psyllium a day, as part of a healthy diet, can lower total cholesterol levels by 4 percent and LDL cholesterol levels by 7 percent.
2. Probiotics: Probiotics, not fiber-based but with potential cholesterol-lowering mechanisms, are an emerging area of interest. A 2018 meta-analysis of 32 studies found that probiotics reduced total cholesterol levels by 13 percent. These studies typically employ probiotics containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis, available in capsules or powders for daily consumption.
3. Red Yeast Rice: This non-fiber supplement has gained attention for its cholesterol-lowering properties, akin to statin medications. A 2022 systematic review showed that red yeast rice supplements (at doses ranging from 200-4,800mg a day) were more effective in lowering triglycerides than total cholesterol when compared to statins. However, long-term safety and effectiveness remain uncertain due to limited data.
Seek Professional Guidance
Always consult your GP and dietitian before incorporating supplements into your cholesterol management plan. Dietary changes, whether accompanied by supplements or not, might not suffice to lower cholesterol levels adequately. Smoking cessation, stress reduction, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and genetic factors also play a role. Depending on your cholesterol levels and overall risk factors, your GP may recommend cholesterol-lowering medications like statins, which will be discussed during your six-month review.
Read more in the research article written by Lauren Ball, Professor of Community Health and Wellbeing at The University of Queensland, and Emily Burch, Dietitian, Researcher, and Lecturer at Southern Cross University. The research study was published in The Conversation.