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
"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
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
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.