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Lower Cholesterol: 4 Ways to Fast Results

According to experts, there are four basic ways to get your cholesterol where you want it:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising
  • Losing weight
  • Taking medicine - in some cases

While each of these works, some people have more success with one than another. Many need  a combination of approaches.

Know Your Cholesterol Numbers

While people are often alarmed when they find out they have high cholesterol, many are also confused.

They don't understand what the numbers mean, they don't know the difference between total cholesterol, LDL and HDL.

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that circulates in your blood. Some of it is make naturally by your body, and the rest comes from foods you eat. There are two main types: HDL and LDL. LDL is "bad cholesterol." It can clog your arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Healthy number. Less than 100mg/dL. HDL is "good cholesterol." HDL attaches to bad cholesterol and escorts it to the liver, which filters it out of the body. So HDL reduces the amount of bad cholesterol in your system. Healthy number. 60mg/dL or higher. Total cholesterol is the sum of all types of cholesterol in your blood. Although your doctor may still refer to this number, it's less significant than your HDL and LDL levels. Healthy number.  Less than 200 mg/dL. Triglycerides, while not cholesterol, are another type of fat floating in your blood. Just as with bad cholesterol, having a high level of triglycerides increases your risk of cardiovascular problems. Healthy number. Less than 150mg/dL

Lower Cholesterol by Eating Right

You've probably heard it before, but foods that are high in saturated fat and - to a lesser extent - high in cholesterol, boost your cholesterol levels. These include foods like egg yolks, fatty meals, and full-fat dairy products.

You should also cut down on trans fatty acids as well, which are often found in processed and fried foods.

But eating a heart healthy diet isn't just about deprivation. In fact, some foods - eaten in moderation - can actually improve your cholesterol levels. Foods such as fatty fish, like tuna and salmon, nuts, especially walnuts and almonds, oatmeal and oat bran, foods fortified with stanols, like some margarines and orange juices.

How much does diet help? It depends

The effect of diet has a varying effect on people's cholesterol. Some people get a lot more benefit than others. Diet tends to help people lower triglycerides and raise good HDL cholesterol, but it's less likely to have a big impact on bad LDL cholesterol.

Improving Cholesterol With Exercise

Exercise is another way to improve your cholesterol levels. Increased physical activity can have a modest effect on cholesterol, lower triglycerides (and bad LDL cholesterol to a lesser extent), while boosting your good HDL cholesterol.

Aerobic activities - something that boosts your heart rate - is good, like walking. Buy a pedometer to count your steps. It's a simple way to measure your progress, and it's easy to work in walking during the day.

Lose Weight: Lower Cholesterol

Being overweight tends to lead to unhealthy cholesterol levels. Losing weight can lower your bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. It also can raise your good HDL cholesterol.

If you have already improved your diet and started exercising but still need to lose weight then you need to make some further adjustments, gradually. Once you've reduced your intake of saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol, you can focus on cutting out some calories. Once you've gotten into an exercise routine, you can step up the intensity to lose some pounds.

Controlling Cholesterol With Medication

What happens if diet, exercise and weight loss aren't enough to bring your cholesterol under control? Your doctor might recommend medicine.

Medicine may also be a first choice for people who have other risk factors. If you have high cholesterol and heart disease or diabetes the evidence is pretty clear that you should be on medication.

Several types of medication can help, including Statins, Ezetimibe, Niacin, Bile acid resins and Fibric acid.

Four Cholesterol Treatments: Which is Best?

The best treatment varies from person to person. People at low risk may try lifestyle changes first and only move on to medication if they need it. Others who are at severe risk may need a medicine, like a statin.

Lifestyle changes may not be enough to drastically lower your bad LDL levels. Physical activity and improved diet can lower your triglycerides and raise your (good) HDL cholesterol but it's pretty hard to eat or exercise your way to better LDL levels.

Supplements, Lifestyle Change Work as Well as Cholesterol-Lowering Medications in Small Studies

Supplements of fish oil and red yeast rice, coupled with lifestyle changes in diet and exercise habits, can reduce cholesterol as much as standard cholesterol-lowering medications known as statins. However the alternative approach is not for everyone. Statins remain the primary and best treatment for people with high cholesterol, espeically if you have known coronary disease.

Supplements vs. Statins: Study Details and Results

Red yeast rice is the product of yeast grown on rice and includes several compounds that hinder production of cholesterol in the body. Fish oil has been shown to lower the blood fats known as triglycerides.

In studies it has shown that bad cholesterol had declined nearly the same amount both in people taking supplements versus statins. However supplement users also lost an average of 10 pounds in 12 weeks but there was no significant weight loss in the medication group. Triglyceride levels were normal in both groups at the start but decreased by 29% in the supplement group and decreased only 9.3% in the medication group.

Supplements vs. Statins: Downsides and Caveats

Red yeast rice and statins work similarly in the body, so they should not be taken together, as this increases the chance of side effects.

For anyone who wants to try the alternative approach should talk with their doctor, having all recommended blood tests to make sure the approach is working, and checking for potential side effects. 

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