5 Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol
By Ann Clark, MD
Mar 6, 2017
Updated Nov 17, 2023
5 min read
One of the contributing factors in the development of high blood cholesterol is a diet high in saturated fat, which is a form of fat typically found in foods that come from animal sources, including beef, pork, poultry, and dairy products like cheese and milk. Saturated fat can also be found in processed food and snacks like chips, cookies, and doughnuts.
To cut out saturated fat and eat in a way that will help lower your LDL cholesterol levels, switch to a plant-based diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The Mediterranean diet is one such plant-based diet that’s rich in nutrients and phytochemicals. The diet includes healthy fats such as olive oil and fish, but plant-based foods make up the bulk of each meal. Red meat is limited to no more than a few times a month. This diet originated in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, where there’s significantly lower incidence of heart disease.
Losing weight is key to helping you lower your blood cholesterol, particularly if you’re obese. Shaving off as little as 5 to 10 percent of your body weight will help you improve your cholesterol levels. As mentioned above, switching to a plant-based diet is a good first step to help you lose a few pounds.
Regular physical activity doesn’t just help you maintain a healthy weight, it also helps you lower cholesterol by stimulating the enzymes that move the “bad” cholesterol in your blood to the liver, where they’re either converted to bile for digestion or excreted.
Smoking creates a double whammy in terms of cholesterol by lowering HDL levels (“good” cholesterol) while simultaneously worsening existing LDL. Research suggests that the toxins produced by cigarettes oxidize LDL cholesterol, making the “bad” cholesterol more potent and damaging.
Sleep is as important as diet in combating high cholesterol. An investigation done by a research group in Helsinki concluded that the gene responsible for cholesterol transport is less active in those who are sleep-deprived. The study also showed that people who suffer from sleep loss have lower HDL levels compared to those who are getting at least seven hours of sleep each night.
You can see that lowering your cholesterol level doesn’t have to be a difficult process. Even though millions of Americans are taking statin drugs to lower their cholesterol levels, you can make a bigger impact by simply making a few positive lifestyle changes. As you develop good eating habits, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep each night, you’ll fight off “bad” cholesterol and better utilize “good” cholesterol to boost your overall health and significantly reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.