Cholesterol Control: The Alternatives
Medications alone aren't the only means to lower cholesterol levels. Some over-the-counter alternative high cholesterol treatments can help -- but others don't fulfill their promise.
Stanol esters, which are in certain margarines such as Take Control or Benecol and in pill-form supplements, are also used in combination with statin drugs. This plant-derived compound can reduce cholesterol by as much as 10% by stopping the absorption of cholesterol. Again, Lee points out that stanol esters should not be used instead of drugs, but added to a treatment plan.
Soluble fiber is very effective at lowering cholesterol. Of course, the best way to get fiber is to eat whole grains and vegetables regularly, but fiber supplements work, too.
How fiber reduces cholesterol is not widely agreed upon, but it appears that it binds to cholesterol and bile acids in the intestine, making it unavailable for absorption. Then, when the liver needs to replace the bile acids that went out with the fiber, it pulls cholesterol from the bloodstream to make more bile acids. It's a pretty neat dietary trick.
"Throw in the fact that fiber has all kinds of other benefits for your entire digestive system, and fiber becomes one of the best dietary means of lowering cholesterol," says Lee.
Soy has been the object of attention as an alternative treatment for a number of ailments, from lowering cholesterol to reducing menopause symptoms. But Lichtenstein says there is little to support such claims.
"Soy is a great source of low-fat protein," she says. "Replace your hamburger with a soy burger. Use it all through your diet to replace high-fat foods. But the evidence does not support its use in lowering cholesterol."
Red yeast rice contains a natural form of the statin drug Mevacor. Some initial research has shown red yeast rice to be effective in lowering cholesterol, but according to Lee, the FDA has some issues with it because herbal doses can vary widely, which is not something you want in cholesterol control.
Garlic is another food that, despite claims to the opposite, has been shown not to lower cholesterol. A 1998 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association shows that "consuming garlic does not lower cholesterol," and such products cannot be recommended as a way to lower cholesterol.