Several types of over-the-counter supplements and dietary alterations are aimed at helping people lower their cholesterol. As is the case with many alternative treatments for any disease or condition, opinions are often mixed as to the efficacy of some treatment methods, and research is often minimal in comparison to traditional medicine treatments.

However, many people have had success in using alternative treatments in the management of many diseases and conditions, including high cholesterol. Before trying any alternative treatments, you should always check with your doctor to be sure that the methods are safe and right for you.

Plant Sterols and Stanols (Phytosterols)

Some products like margarine and orange juice are fortified with plant sterols. A 2005 study in The American Journal of Cardiology showed that getting 2 to 2.5 grams of sterols from these types of products may lower “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels by 10 to 14 percent in some people.

Garlic

While some studies indicate that garlic or garlic supplements may help lower cholesterol, more recent research suggests that it is not as effective as once thought. A 2007 study at Stanford University examined the effects of raw garlic and garlic supplements on people with elevated levels of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. For six months, participants took either the equivalent of four garlic cloves a day or dummy pills (also known as placebos). At the end of the study, none of the participants’ cholesterol had changed.

However, research has proven that garlic has other cardiovascular benefits and can potentially reduce the risk of heart disease. So including it in a balanced diet is recommended by many dieticians and healthcare professionals.

Red Yeast Rice

Red yeast rice can lower blood levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Red yeast rice contains chemicals called monacolins, which get in the way of cholesterol formation. One monacolin in particular, lovastatin, is the active ingredient in some cholesterol-lowering medications. Because of this, there is some debate about whether the supplement should be classified as a drug and therefore banned as an over-the-counter supplement.

Niacin

Niacin is a B vitamin that may increase levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol by 15 to 35 percent. An essential nutrient, niacin is found in daily multivitamins, as well as meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs. In order to have cholesterol-improving benefits, niacin must be taken at higher doses than normal. Because it can cause side effects, you should consult your doctor before taking niacin.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)

Omega-3 fatty acids (also known as fish oil) can slow down the development of plaque in the arteries. When taken at high doses, omega-3 fatty acids can significantly lower elevated triglycerides. However, taking large amounts of fish oil increases the risk of bleeding in some people and should usually not be taken with blood-thinning medications. Consult your physician before taking fish oil supplements, especially if you are on blood thinners, cholesterol medication, or aspirin. Your doctor can help determine how much fish oil is right for you. Your doctor may even prescribe a prescription-strength fish oil.