Is it possible to lower cholesterol naturally, quickly? Research studies have shown you can lower cholesterol by up to 37% with the use of exercise and healthy food choices, such as eating more plants, fiber, phytosterols, and fish oil. However, the impact of adopting a natural, healthy lifestyle is far greater than you may realize. Switching to a healthier lifestyle can help you lower cholesterol naturally, while improving inflammation, lowering body weight, increasing energy, decreasing bloating, and lowering the risk of many diseases. Are you ready to try a holistic approach to lower your cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy, natural component of everyone’s blood that has many functions in the body. When the so-called “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) causes plaques to build up in blood arteries it increases your risk of a blockage, which can cause heart attacks or strokes. Other factors play a role in heart disease risk, including triglycerides and inflammation.
Called familial hypercholesterolemia, having a history of high cholesterol in your family can put you at an increased risk for heart attack or stroke. Experts in the field at John Hopkins Medicine suggest, “…the first line of treatment for high cholesterol is lifestyle modification.” Eating healthy foods, exercise and controlling weight are key factors.
Odd as it may sound, eating fat can help you lower cholesterol naturally. Monounsaturated fats, those found in plants, nuts, and seeds, are helpful at lowering cholesterol. Go ahead, go nuts! Scientists suggest switching out the carbohydrate-rich snack for a handful of cashews as a simple dietary strategy to lower cholesterol naturally. Similar results were seen with the consumption of almonds.
It’s important, before we move on, to note another two fats known to help lower triglycerides naturally – another fat playing a pivotal role in heart health. The omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Fats in the body act as eicosanoids, messages which can trigger pro- or anti-inflammatory reactions in the body. EPA and DHA trigger anti-inflammatory reactions and have been found in clinical studies to beneficially alter total atherogenic lipoproteins (bad fats that are linked to increased risk of heart disease). In 2019, the American Heart Association recommended in the scientific journal, Circulation, that consuming about 4 grams per day of EPA+DHA is an effective and safe option for reducing triglycerides. Health Canada’s current recommendations are 1,000mg – 5,000mg of EPA + DHA to help reduce triglycerides.
Cradling a cup of tea has long been associated with taking a moment to slow down and relax. Reducing stress is important in today’s busy lifestyles, as stress can increase your risk of a heart attack. Tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid known to support feelings of relaxation. But, there’s more goodness in your mug of tea! Scientists have noticed a protective effect against high blood fats, including high cholesterol, in populations who consume green tea regularly. In a review of clinical studies, published in the Nutrition Journal, researchers concluded evidence shows green tea can effectively lower cholesterol naturally in both average and overweight individuals. The EGCG, a naturally occurring catechin found in highest concentrations in green tea, appears to play a major role in these health benefits. According to the International Journal of Food Science Nutrition, scientists recommend consuming between 107 and 856mg of EGCG per day to lower cholesterol naturally.
Eating more plants is one way to lower cholesterol naturally. A review of 40 studies, noted vegans have lower body weight, better cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. Grazing on plants is a surprisingly abundant protein-rich way to eat – just consider how strong and fast deer are! There’s no need to hang out in a pasture, simply try legumes. The Mediterranean diet is popular typically linked to olive oil, fish, and vegetables; however, protein-rich plants may be a major factor in its heart-healthy benefits. Per capita, people around the Mediterranean consume 8 – 23g of legumes per week, while northern Europeans consume only 5g, according to researchers.
A review of 26 randomized, controlled studies looking at the effects of eating at least 1 serving (130g) of legumes per day concluded that eating legumes is a significant way to lower cholesterol naturally. Legumes are nutritionally rich in protein. Try adding legumes onto your next plate or kitchen creation from chili to salads. There are so many legumes to choose from: beans (pinto, red, white, or soybeans), alfalfa, clover, lupins, green beans, peas, peanuts, dry beans, broad beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils.
Most adults BARLEY eat enough fiber. When researchers in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reviewed 11 randomized clinical trials looking at the effects of barley, they found it lowered total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Eating more barley appears to be a good way to lower cholesterol naturally, thanks to beta-glucan, the fiber it contains. Oats and barley contain the highest concentration of beta-glucan, with other sources including sorghum, maize, wheat, durum wheat, and seaweed, as well as maitake, shiitake, and reishi mushrooms. Of note, processing of foods can alter beta-glucan, with oat granola, oat porridge being higher in beta-glucan, but an oat flour-based product, such as an oatcake.
Why is beta-glucan helpful at lowering cholesterol? Beta-glucan comes in two forms, soluble fiber and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves partially to create a gel-like consistency that is great at trapping cholesterol in the gut (reducing how much can be absorbed into the bloodstream). Insoluble fibre is fermented by bacteria in the gut into short-chain fatty acids which researchers note leads to changes in the probiotics in the lower intestine, enhancing the cholesterol-lowering effect.
Dietary fiber is well known to play a role in heart health. Yet, certain fibers, called prebiotics, may have an even greater role. Prebiotics are fibers that probiotics in the gut can use as fuel. You want to feed your probiotics as recent evidence suggests that probiotics serve an important role in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Probiotics appear to lower cholesterol levels by increasing bile salt synthesis and bile salt deconjugation. If that doesn’t convince you to eat more fiber to fuel your probiotics, this may: probiotics have anti-oxidant, anti-platelet, and anti-inflammatory properties which are helpful in supporting heart health. Where can you find prebiotics? Common prebiotics includes fructoogliossaccharides, inulin, and oligofructose. You probably eat some of these already as they are found in some commonly consumed plants: garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, barley, tomato, rye, soybean, peas, and beans.
A holistic healthy lifestyle includes reaching for healthy foods, such as the many plants noted above. It also includes taking time to slow down, sip a cup of tea, and check in with yourself – your spirit needs nurturing too. Most importantly, a healthy lifestyle includes movement. Physical activity should bring you joy – there’s no one-size-fits-all gym class. Find ways to move your body that bring you joy. Adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, which is about 25 minutes per day, according to Health Canada. Take a hike in the woods, reduce desk back pain with some stretching lead by a yoga video, or turn up the music in the kitchen and dance to your favourite tunes.
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Contributed by Allison Tannis
Known for her deliciously geeky words, Allison’s articles and books are read around the world by those curious about where to find the most delicious (and nutritious) places to stick their forks. More at allisontannis.com. Follow @deliciouslygeeky.