When it comes to controlling your cholesterol, statins are king. But can fish oil work to reduce cholesterol as well?

The Contenders

Statins stop the body from making cholesterol as well as help reabsorb plaque that’s built up on the artery walls. An estimated 22 percent of Americans between the age of 40 and 75 are currently on statins to keep their cholesterol under control.

Fish oil is most often taken in supplement form, though it is found naturally in fish. It contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are credited with a range of health benefits. Fish oil is the third most popular supplement, after multivitamins and calcium, with an estimated 10 percent of Americans taking them.

What the Research Says

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), statins show an indisputable ability to prevent heart disease, but they should be taken with care.

As well as reducing your cholesterol, statins have other benefits. For example, they have anti-inflammatory properties that could work to stabilize blood vessels, according to Mayo Clinic. It’s because of the drug’s potential side effects, however, that they are generally only prescribed to people with high cholesterol and a risk of cardiovascular disease. They are not considered preventive medicine.

Fish oil supplements have been tied to a long list of benefits, including decreased triglycerides (the fats in your blood), decreased risk of heart disease and stroke, increased brain health, diabetes management, and much more. But when it comes to lowering LDL, low-density lipoprotein or “bad,” cholesterol, the evidence simply isn’t there.

Some studies have found decreased risk of heart disease in patients taking fish oil supplements. Others studies have found no such evidence. But even if fish oil does decrease triglycerides and somehow reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, there isn’t sufficient evidence that it has positive effects on lowering LDL cholesterol.

The Verdict

If you have high cholesterol, taking statins is one way to manage your risk. Taking fish oil may have its own benefits, but lowering your LDL cholesterol is not one of them.

Speak with your doctor about your options and the benefits and risks of statin therapy. The FDA recently updated statin warnings, indicating that the drugs aren’t right for everyone.

Many people take supplements as a preventive measure. The best prevention for high cholesterol is making healthy lifestyle choices, including quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats, and managing your weight.