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Stand Up to Heart Disease: Can Supplements Lower Cholesterol?

Solo supplements won’t do

Have your total cholesterol levels become too high? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following cholesterol levels are what you should aim for:

  • LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol): less than 100 mg/dL
  • HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol): 60 mg/dL or higher
  • triglycerides: less than 150 mg/dL

Your total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL. So, if your cholesterol levels are higher than what the CDC recommends, you may need prescription medication to manage your cholesterol. Or you could look for a supplement to help lower your numbers.

While there’s no supplement that can replace regular exercise and a healthy diet, there may be some options that can help. There are also some supplements that haven’t been proven to make a significant difference.

Read on to learn more about what choices might be the most effective.

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Red rice yeast

Red rice yeast

Red rice yeast has been used in China and other Asian countries as a treatment for high cholesterol. The supplements contain a substance that’s extracted from the fermented rice.

A study done in Italy with 25 hypercholesterolemic participants found that people who were not treated with a placebo experienced a better percent change in total cholesterol levels. Another study found that LDL and total cholesterol lowered in the intervention group.

Beta-sitosterol and sitostanol

Spread cholesterol-lowering love

Plant-based esters called beta-sitosterol and sitostanol are available as oral supplements and in some margarines. These compounds help prevent your body from absorbing cholesterol from food.

One review looked at eight clinical trials and found that oral supplements, as long as they were part of a healthy diet, were effective in providing LDL-cholesterol−lowering effects similar to plant sterols/stanols delivered in food.

There are yogurt drinks, margarines, and orange juices that have plant sterols added to them. According to the Mayo Clinic, you need to consume 2 grams of plant sterols per day to see results.

Swap the butter on your morning toast for a spread containing beta-sitosterol or sitostanol. This may help lower your total and LDL cholesterol.

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Psyllium seeds

Fiber in psyllium helps fight cholesterol

Laxatives such as Metamucil contain the husk of psyllium seeds. Psyllium is a type of plant that grows worldwide. This soluble form of fiber can help lower total and LDL cholesterol levels when paired with a healthy diet.

A 2011 study also found that adding psyllium fiber supplements to dietary fiber may be helpful in reducing risk of metabolic syndromes in people who are overweight.

Barley

Choose barley in food

Eating barley is good for you. That’s why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows food producers to claim that items containing barley may help reduce heart disease risk. Whole-grain barley and dry-milled barley products like flakes, grits, flour, and pearled barley help lower LDL and total cholesterol.

A small study of 28 people found that a 21-day diet including several nutritional supplements resulted in lower cholesterol. Barley grass juice powder was among the ingredients in one of the supplements.

The bottom line? The results from supplements show promise, but they’re not enough to demonstrate that taking barley supplements will decrease cholesterol in the same way as eating barley.

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Oat bran

Oat bran: Medicine cabinet or cupboard?

The soluble fiber in oatmeal and oat bran helps to lower your total cholesterol and LDL. It does this by preventing your body from absorbing cholesterol. You need five to 10 grams of soluble fiber daily to lower your cholesterol, according to the Mayo Clinic. They recommend eating one-and-a-half cups of oatmeal every morning.

Oat bran supplements may also be helpful for lowering cholesterol. But keep in mind that high quantities of fiber can cause gas and bloating.

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Artichoke

Artichoke leaf extract is a “maybe”

An analysis of three random, placebo-controlled trials of artichoke leaf extract (ALE) showed the potential of lowering cholesterol. ALE reduced total cholesterol levels by 18.5 percent in one of the three studies. The placebo in this study lowered cholesterol by 8.6 percent.

But researchers concluded that this 10 percent difference isn’t enough to confirm the benefits of ALE. More studies are needed to demonstrate its effectiveness.

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Green tea

Green tea: A cup or a capsule?

Researchers analyzed 14 controlled studies and concluded that drinking green tea or taking green tea extract can lower total cholesterol and LDL. The analysis showed that green tea did not affect HDL. HDL is considered the good form of cholesterol.

Another meta-analysis of 20 studies on the effect of green tea confirmed these results. Both the beverage and the extract were shown to lower LDL and total cholesterol effectively. And they did not significantly affect HDL or triglycerides.

Garlic

Garlic: Enjoy, but don’t count on it

Garlic shows inconsistent results in lowering cholesterol. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine compared raw garlic with two garlic supplements. It failed to show potential for lowering cholesterol.

The study subjects took the equivalent of an average size clove of garlic six days a week for six months. There were three forms of garlic. But only one of the three forms significantly lowered LDL, or bad cholesterol, in 192 participants.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) says that if garlic has an effect on cholesterol it is small. And it may not have any effect on LDL.

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Takeaway

A healthy mix

Lowering high cholesterol isn’t as easy as just taking a supplement. But consider supplements that have been shown to be effective for lowering cholesterol. You’ll get extra benefit if you pair it with a healthy diet. Low-fat, high-fiber meals and exercise can be a great combination.

It’s important to note that supplements are not regulated by the FDA and there have been reports of contaminated products that contained toxins. Before taking supplements, talk to your healthcare provider first about the best ways to address your cholesterol levels.

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