– Cholesterol is a type of fat your body needs in a limited amount for healthy cell membranes and to synthesize certain hormones. Cholesterol is produced by your liver. In addition, it’s found in certain foods of animal origin. Plant-based foods generally don’t contain cholesterol. Once you consume cholesterol through diet, it circulates in your bloodstream where at high levels it can stick to the inside walls of blood vessels and form plaques. These plaques are linked with a greater risk of heart disease. read more about Cholesterol » | find answers to your vitamins questions »
There are different types of cholesterol: LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol. It's LDL-cholesterol that's linked with a greater risk for heart disease. HDL-cholesterol is often referred to as "good cholesterol" because it helps to remove excess cholesterol from the inside of blood vessels and carry it back to the liver where it can be broken down. A higher HDL-cholesterol may be protective against heart disease.
If you have high LDL-cholesterol, your doctor may recommend lowering it to help reduce your risk for heart disease. One way to do that is to limit the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat in your diet, specifically full-fat dairy and red meat. Processed foods are another source of saturated fat and “trans-fat,” fats that are strongly linked with elevated LDL-cholesterol and heart disease. Research also shows that eating foods high in fiber like whole grains and vegetables help to lower LDL-cholesterol by reducing absorption of cholesterol from the intestinal tract.
Eating a whole food diet that's low in saturated fat helps to lower LDL-cholesterol but there are also supplements that may help. One example is plant sterols and stanols. Plant sterols and stanols block the absorption of cholesterol. This means less of it enters your blood stream where it can lodge in blood vessels and form plaque. Combining these plant-based components with a high-fiber diet that’s low in saturated fat may help to lower your cholesterol level based on current research. Plant stanols and sterols are naturally found in small amounts in healthy foods such as nuts and plant-based foods.
It might make your breath smell bad, but garlic contains natural ingredients that help to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Research shows that garlic supplements can lower cholesterol by as much as 9%, thanks to a natural compound in garlic called allicin. Garlic has other heart-healthy benefits as well. It helps to lower blood pressure and keep platelets from sticking together to form clots that could lead to a heart attack or stroke.
There’s another supplement with heart-healthy properties. More people are adding fish oils to their diet these days. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil help to lower levels of a blood fat called triglycerides that are linked with a higher risk for heart disease. They also help to reduce inflammation, and inflammation is believed to play a role in heart disease. Your body can't make this type of fat and most people don’t get enough of it through diet. Fish and salmon oil supplements offer a convenient way to get these heart-healthy fats. Always talk to your doctor before taking omega-3 or fish oil supplements. They’re not appropriate for people taking medications that thin the blood.
There's a lot you can do through diet and lifestyle to reduce your cholesterol. A combination of diet and supplements may help to lower cholesterol naturally, but talk to your doctor before starting supplements since they can interact with certain medications.