Some people choose to treat their high cholesterol with supplements and herbs instead of more traditional medications. Opinions are mixed as to the effectiveness of such treatments. While some evidence exists to support the effectiveness of these treatments, scientific research is minimal.
You should always consult with your doctor before trying any alternative treatments or supplements. Some herbs can interact with other medications and cause potentially dangerous side effects.
Some foods, such as margarine and orange juice, are fortified with plant sterols. Plant sterols are a group of substances called phytochemicals that occur naturally within plants and some foods including:
The substances are believed to reduce cholesterol. A study in The American Journal of Cardiology showed that getting 2 to 2.5 grams of sterols a day could lower “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) by 10 to 14 percent in some people.
Red yeast rice is known to lower LDL and triglycerides (blood lipids or fatty acids) in the blood. The beneficial components of red yeast rice are monacolins. These chemicals interfere with cholesterol formation. In fact, a type of monacolin called lovastatin is the active ingredient in some cholesterol drugs. This has caused some debate about whether red yeast rice should be classified as a drug and banned from over-the-counter sales.
According to the Mayo Clinic, niacin may increase levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL). One of the B vitamins, niacin is available in multivitamins, meats, fish, dairy products, and eggs. Niacin must be taken at high doses to benefit cholesterol levels. However, taking niacin in high doses increases the risk for harmful side effects, including liver problems and ulcers. Because of potential side effects, you should discuss the use of niacin with your doctor.
Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as fish oil, may slow the buildup of plaque in the arteries. When taken at high doses, fish oil can also lower elevated triglycerides. However, large doses of fish oil can increase bleeding risks for some people and should not be taken with any blood-thinning medications. Talk with your doctor before taking fish oil supplements, especially if you are taking any other medications. Your doctor can help you with supplement dosage or a prescription-strength fish oil.