Alternative Treatments for High Cholesterol
There are many alternative treatments for lowering cholesterol. But before you add any supplements or alternative therapies to your diet, talk to your health care provider. Some supplements may interact with other medication you may be taking or have dangerous side effects.
Supplements for Lowering Cholesterol
Some of the herbal and nutritional supplements that may lower cholesterol include:
- Garlic: According to some studies, garlic may decrease blood levels of total cholesterol by a few percentage points. Other studies, however, suggest that it may not be as beneficial as once thought. It may also have significant side effects and/or interaction with certain medications. Garlic may prolong bleeding and blood clotting time, so garlic and garlic supplements should not be taken prior to surgery or with blood-thinning drugs such as Coumadin.
- Guggulipid: Guggulipid is the gum resin of the mukul myrrh tree. In clinical studies performed in India, guggulipid significantly reduced blood levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. The enthusiasm for using guggulipid as a cholesterol-lowering herbal agent, however, diminished after the publication of negative results from a clinical trial in the U.S. Further research is necessary to determine the safety and efficacy of this herb.
- Red yeast rice: Red yeast rice has been found to lower cholesterol in studies and was previously found in the over-the-counter supplement Cholestin. However, in 2001, FDA took Cholestin off the shelf because it contained lovastatin, a compound found in the cholesterol prescription medication Mevacor. Reformulated "Cholestin" no longer contains red yeast rice. Other red yeast rice-containing supplements currently available in the U.S. contain very small amounts of lovastatin. Their effectiveness is questionable.
- Policosanol: Produced from sugar cane, policosanol was found to be effective in lowering LDL cholesterol in several studies. Most policosanol supplements found in the U.S., including the reformulated Cholestin, contain policosanol extracted from beeswax and not the sugar cane policosanol. There is no evidence that policosanol extracted from beeswax can lower cholesterol. Additional studies on sugar cane policosanol are needed to determine its effectiveness in lowering cholesterol.
- Other herbal products: The results of several studies suggest fenugreek seeds and leaves, artichoke leaf extract, yarrow, and holy basil all may help lower cholesterol. These and other commonly used herbs and spices -- including ginger, turmeric, and rosemary -- are being investigated for their potential beneficial effects relating to coronary disease prevention.
Dietary Approaches to Lowering Cholesterol
Increased consumption of dietary fiber, soy foods, omega-3 fatty acids, and plant compounds similar to cholesterol (plant stanols and sterols) can significantly reduce LDL cholesterol, or bad cholesterol.
- Fiber: Only plant foods (vegetables, fruits, legumes, unrefined grains) contain dietary fiber. The soluble fiber found in foods such as oat bran, barley, psyllium seeds, flax seed meal, apples, citrus fruits, lentils and beans are particularly effective in lowering cholesterol.
- Soybeans: Substituting soybeans or soy protein for other proteins have been shown to prevent coronary heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Soy protein is present in tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy yogurt, edamame, soy nuts, and many other food products made from soybeans.
- Phytosterols: Phytosterols (plant sterol and stanol esters) are compounds found in small amounts in foods such as whole grains as well as in many vegetables, fruits, and vegetable oils. They decrease LDL cholesterol, mostly by interfering with the intestinal absorption of cholesterol. Phytosterols can be found in spreads (like the cholesterol-lowering margarines Benecol, Promise, Smart Balance, and Take Control), dressings for salads, and dietary supplements. Additional phytosterol-fortified foods include Minute Maid Heart Wise orange juice, Nature Valley Healthy Heart chewy granola bars, CocoVia chocolates, Rice Dream Heartwise rice drink, and Lifetime low-fat cheese.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may also help lower cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the rate at which the liver produces LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. They have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, decrease the growth of plaque in the arteries, and aid in thinning blood. Aim for at least two servings of fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and sardines per week. Other dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flax seed and walnuts. Supplement sources include fish oil capsules, flaxseed and flax seed oil. If you are considering taking omega-3 fatty acids, first discuss with your health care provider if omega-3 fatty acid supplements are right for you, especially if you are currently taking blood-thinning medication.