Medically reviewed on February 22, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
If you’re struggling with high cholesterol, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 38% of American adults have high cholesterol levels . If you are among this group, you may be at a higher risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, and/or peripheral arterial disease, among other health complications .
It’s easy to see why checking cholesterol levels with a cholesterol home test kit is an important step towards improving overall health. So, what can you do about it?
While medications are available to help lower cholesterol, certain changes in diet and lifestyle may be able to lower cholesterol levels naturally. If you’re wondering how to reduce cholesterol without medication, continue reading for our guide on diet and lifestyle changes that may help.
Cholesterol is an important aspect of health that needs to be observed and kept at a healthy level. When we talk about lowering cholesterol, it’s helpful to know what we are trying to accomplish.
Total cholesterol is made up of several different kinds of fats that can be found in the blood, including :
LDL is often referred to as the “bad cholesterol.” Having a high LDL cholesterol level can cause buildup and even blockages in the arteries, which may increase the risk of stroke or heart attack. Triglycerides are another type of non-cholesterol fat that can contribute to health issues and are usually measured with total cholesterol levels.
Why is this important? There is also a form of “good cholesterol,” or HDL. HDL helps lower LDL cholesterol levels and prevents it from forming buildup or blockages in the arteries. Some of the steps that help lower total cholesterol may involve raising HDL cholesterol.
Cholesterol levels are usually measured by a test called a lipid panel, which is used to determine the LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels in the blood. The balance of these levels can help you and your healthcare provider determine if steps are needed to lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Let’s examine the different factors that can help manage cholesterol.
Eating a balanced diet is an important element of maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. The body naturally produces the cholesterol it needs to function, but it’s also found in some food. Certain foods, however, are known to raise cholesterol levels above the recommended levels.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), saturated fats and trans fats are the two main types of fats to limit or avoid when trying to lower cholesterol . What does this mean for everyday meal choices? Below, we’ll walk you through some examples.
Saturated fats are a type of fat molecule found in many foods, but the highest natural concentration is found in meat and dairy products. Saturated fats that come from plants are usually solids at room temperature, such as cocoa butter, coconut oil, and/or palm oil. You can also find them in foods made with solid fats and shortening, such as baked goods and fried foods.
Foods that are high in saturated fat include:
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that those trying to reduce their cholesterol limit their saturated fat to less than 6% of their diet each day, or about 11 to 13 grams on average.
Trans fats, also called partially hydrogenated oils, come from liquid vegetable oils that have been industrially processed to turn them into a solid product, such as shortening or margarine. Trans fats are used to make many processed and fried foods, including:
The AHA recommends that those trying to manage or lower their cholesterol levels remove trans fats from their diet entirely, as they can raise LDL and lower HDL cholesterol levels more than any other food.
If you’re not sure what foods to steer clear of, refer to the Nutrition Facts Panel on packaged foods, which should list both the trans fats and saturated fats in each serving.
Cigarette smoking can be a significant factor for those who struggle with a high level of cholesterol. Studies have found that smoking lowers the levels of HDL cholesterol in the blood, which, in turn, can lead to higher levels of LDL cholesterol .
However, the research found that those who quit smoking, are likely to see positive improvements in HDL levels. Another review of studies found that these changes take place quickly, with significant improvement after only three weeks of smoking cessation .
While smoking can be a difficult habit to give up, this is one sure way to significantly improve health in the long run.
Exercise is another proven way to reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. A study on the effects of exercise on cholesterol showed that physical activity can be effective in both raising HDL cholesterol levels and lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides .
Based on the results of the study, researchers recommended incorporating 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 times a week. Your choice of activity, however, is up to you. You may prefer an aerobic form of exercise, such as:
You can also choose to incorporate resistance training, such as:
Overall, the study found that both aerobic and resistance training can help lower cholesterol levels. However, when choosing the best activity for personal cholesterol management, it may help to opt for an activity you know you’ll enjoy doing daily.
In addition to smoking, alcohol consumption is one habit that may be impacting cholesterol levels. A review of multiple studies found that repeated heavy alcohol usage is likely to raise overall cholesterol levels, among other detrimental health effects .
However, if you’re able to moderate drinking, this is one part of your lifestyle you may not have to give up entirely. How much alcohol is considered moderate? The CDC recommends a limit of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men .
Managing weight can also factor into lowering cholesterol. The CDC notes that being overweight or obese can increase total cholesterol levels, as excess fat can make it more difficult for the body to get rid of bad cholesterol .
Other evidence seems to agree that losing excess weight can help lower cholesterol. A study of overweight and obese adults demonstrated significant improvements in total cholesterol and triglycerides when participants lost as little as 5% to 10% of their body weight, with additional weight loss showing even more substantial changes .
If you’re already making other lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol, such as diet and exercise, some weight loss may come naturally. Making a commitment to lose weight by setting realistic goals, improving eating habits, and/or tracking progress may help to achieve more consistent results in the long run.
While dietary and lifestyle changes can go a long way toward improving cholesterol levels and overall health, there are times when you may need additional monitoring and support from a healthcare professional. Based on risk factors, they may also recommend starting a cholesterol medication to lower levels.
Certain health conditions may increase the risk for high cholesterol, including :
If you’re not sure whether your health may affect the ability to lower cholesterol without medication, it’s never a bad idea to check with a medical professional. If you need the help of cholesterol-lowering medication, however, your healthcare provider may recommend combining it with lifestyle changes for best results.
Making positive changes to manage health can be a highly rewarding process. Many of the lifestyle changes made to help lower cholesterol can be beneficial to overall well-being and leave you feeling better than ever.
When you’re trying to take control of cholesterol levels, however, the results of the changes can sometimes seem invisible. It may be frustrating not to know where you’re starting from or whether the changes you’ve made are producing results.
With an Everlywell at-home test kit, you can learn more about cholesterol levels and monitor progress at your convenience.
Want to measure your total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides to inform your health management? Take the Everlywell Cholesterol & Lipids Test today and get easy-to-understand results you can access from home.
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