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Alternative Treatments for High Cholesterol

There are many alternative treatments proposed for lowering cholesterol. But before you add any supplements or alternative therapies to your diet, talk to your health care provider. Few natural products have been proven in scientific studies to reduce cholesterol, but some might be helpful. But also, some supplements may interact with other medication you're taking or have the potential for dangerous side effects.

Supplements for Lowering Cholesterol

Some of the herbal and nutritional supplements that may help lower cholesterol include:

  • Garlic: According to some studies, garlic may decrease blood levels of total cholesterol by a few percentage points, but only in the short term. Other studies, however, suggest that it may not be as beneficial as once thought. 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. It has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, which originated in India more than 3,000 years ago. In clinical studies done in India, guggulipid significantly reduced blood levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. But most of these studies do not meet the criteria for scientific validity. In addition, the enthusiasm for using guggulipid as a cholesterol-lowering herbal agent diminished after the publication of negative results from a clinical trial in the U.S. Further research is necessary to determine the safety and effectiveness 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. can only contain very small levels of lovastatin. The FDA does not allow promotion of red yeast rice for lowering cholesterol.
  • 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 and safety 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.
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