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How to Lower High Cholesterol

Natalie Stein
November 21, 2020
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These healthy choices can lower high cholesterol, and they may even end up preventing diabetes.

If your doctor has told you that you have high cholesterol levels, it may be time to take action. Having high total or “bad” LDL cholesterol or low “good” HDL cholesterol can increase risk for heart attacks and stroke, but the condition is usually treatable. “Therapeutic lifestyle changes,” such as diet and exercise, are the first line of defense, while medications may be necessary to lower higher levels of cholesterol or for patients who cannot lower cholesterol when they make lifestyle changes.

The following strategies can help lower high total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and/or triglycerides, and/or raise HDL cholesterol. As you will see, many of these choices can also help prevent diabetes if you have prediabetes or slightly high blood sugar, and Lark DPP can help you establish these choices as healthy habits.

Lose Weight


Losing weight can help lower cholesterol levels if you are overweight or obese. Though studies differ as to the specific numbers, a large review of different research studies found that each kilogram (2.2 lb.) of weight loss was linked to a 1.28-mg/dl decrease in LDL cholesterol, an 0.46-mg/dl increase in HDL cholesterol, and a 4-mg/dl decrease in triglycerides.

Whether you follow a low-fat, low-carb, or other type of plan to lose weight may not matter that much. The more important considerations are that the plan limits calories to permit weight loss, and that you can keep it up for the long term to keep the pounds off for good.

Weight loss is not just good for cholesterol. Excess weight increases risk for prediabetes, which affects 1 in 3 American adults and is more likely among overweight and obese individuals. Each kilogram of weight loss can lower diabetes risk by 16% if you are obese and have prediabetes.

Eat Smart


Not surprisingly, eating a more nutritious diet can lower cholesterol levels, but what does “more nutritious” mean? Surprisingly (or not), experts no longer label high-cholesterol foods as the enemy. Rather, it appears that dietary cholesterol does not raise cholesterol levels much, as long as the rest of the diet is “healthy.”

“Healthy” can mean eating more fiber and healthy fats, and limiting added sugars, saturated fats, trans fats, and refined starches. This table can be a guide.

Eat More… Eat Less…
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Fruit
  • Seafood
  • Beans, lentils, and split peas
  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts, peanuts, and seeds
  • Reduced-fat dairy products
  • Fatty red meat
  • Processed meat
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Sugar-sweetened desserts
  • Fried foods, such as French fries, fried fish and chicken, and doughnuts
  • Refined starches, such as white bread, pasta, and rice, refined cereal

If you notice that your regular diet could shift a little more towards the “healthier” side, it’s possible that your current diet could be contributing to higher blood sugar levels. Lark DPP can help make healthy swaps to lower blood sugar as you log meals and receive feedback.

Get Moving


Exercise and other forms of physical activity can lower risk for heart attacks and stroke. Physical activity raises HDL cholesterol levels, and the relationship seems to be dose-dependent. That is, the more you exercise, the higher your HDL can get.

Did you know that low physical activity isn’t just a risk factor for low “good” HDL cholesterol levels, but also for having high blood sugar? If you are not there already, increasing physical activity to 150 minutes per week can lower risk for developing diabetes by over 50% if you have prediabetes and are overweight or obese.

Remember Self-Care


Self-care includes eating right and exercising, but it also includes the “little” things in life. That can mean sleeping enough, managing stress, taking the time for leisure activities simply because you love them, and spending time with your family and friends as well as alone sometimes. Giving yourself a better quality of life day in, day out, can improve your heart health, too.

If lowering cholesterol levels and feeling better generally aren’t motivation enough to practice self-care, what about your blood sugar? These same self-care actions can lower risk for prediabetes and diabetes. Lark DPP has plenty of ideas for how you can take care of yourself.

Work with Your Doctor on Medications


Sometimes, lifestyle changes are not enough to lower cholesterol to goal levels. If you are making these changes and they are not getting your cholesterol under control, your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications. It can take a few tries to figure out the proper dose and which medication works best for you, but properly prescribed medications can dramatically lower cholesterol and heart disease risk.

Evaluate Dietary Supplements Carefully


There are many dietary supplements that claim to lower cholesterol. Some may be effective, but it is best to be cautious for a few reasons.

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not test dietary supplements for safety, effectiveness, or purity (that’s right…you cannot be 100% sure that the supplement contains the ingredients that the label claims).
  • They can interfere with common medications. For example, green tea extract can interact with warfarin (Coumadin).
  • Side effects from mild, such as bloating from taking oat bran, to severe, such as altered blood sugar levels or stomach pain from taking red yeast rice due to its lovastatin content.

Always talk to your doctor before taking any dietary supplements.

High cholesterol is a risk factor for some health problems, but it can usually be controlled with some lifestyle changes and/or medications. If you have high cholesterol, you may want to talk to your doctor about it, and also ask whether you may have high blood sugar, since they can go hand in hand. Lark DPP can help with weight loss and other lifestyle choices to lower health risks, and it may be covered by your health plan!

Author
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health