Did you know cholesterol in food only plays a small part in increasing our bodies’ cholesterol levels? But what we eat has a big role to play in managing our cholesterol and heart health. Consistently poor eating habits, combined with a lack of physical activity can lead to unhealthy weight gain, which can also raise levels of unhealthy (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower levels of HDL cholesterol which can negatively affect your heart health.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol) is often called the ‘good cholesterol’ because it helps to remove other forms of cholesterol from your bloodstream and helps to keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol) is often called the ‘bad cholesterol’ because it is the main source of cholesterol build-up and blockage in the arteries.
Time and time again we hear that balance is the key to health. There are some foods that can improve LDL cholesterol levels and eating these foods in moderate amounts can help keep us fighting fit. Foods containing healthier fats or soluble fibre are great examples of this. So with this in mind, here are some delicious ideas that can help you eat your way to a healthier heart.
Oats can provide a healthy way to start your day- they’re not only filling, but also full of soluble fibre. With a recommended daily fibre intake of 25-30 grams for adults (less for kids), a serve of oats can get you up to four grams and you can boost this even more by coupling it with some fruit and nuts. Check out our porridge recipe which packs-a-punch when it comes to fibre (along with a boost of healthier fats from the nuts!).
Legumes (or pulses) like chickpeas, lentils and baked beans are another great source of soluble fibre. For an easy lunch, you can throw together our farro with broad bean salad or delicious smokey bean and beef burrito bowl, which is packed full of red kidney beans. Combine legumes with veggies, like our healthy lentil pilaf, for a bonus boost.
With the cholesterol-lowering potential of healthier unsaturated fats, including foods rich in omega-3 (a type of polyunsaturated fat), you can add some healthy variety to your diet. Fish is a rich source of omega-3 and you can add more value by adding wholegrains, like in this sticky baked salmon and rice.
Apples, berries and citrus fruits contain a type of soluble fibre called pectin and are a delightful addition to a sweet treat. We’ve got some mouth-watering dessert options, including apple cinnamon crepes and a wonderful fruit crumble, which contains the fibre-filled goodness of both fruits and oats.
Nuts and seeds are a rich source of cholesterol-lowering unsaturated fats. A small handful as a snack between larger meals can keep you feeling fuller for longer, and regular consumption is linked to lower levels of LDL cholesterol.
Other key tips
- Use healthier oils. Saturated and trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, so switch to fruit, nut or seed-based oils and spreads (such as canola, olive or sunflower) rather than choosing butter and other animal-based fats.
- Include a variety of healthy proteins. With this in mind, lean cuts of meat and reduced fat dairy products can also help keep your cholesterol down and your heart health up!
- Including foods fortified with plant sterols can also help to reduce LDL cholesterol. Read more about plant sterols.
Find out more about blood cholesterol.
- How to Lower Cholesterol with Diet
- How to Lower Your Cholesterol Fast in Time for Blood Tests
- Eating fat really lowers your cholesterol
- Why eating more fat lowers your cholesterol
- How to do the cholesterol drop protocol
- Your 7-day cholesterol lowering protocol
- Join over 1 million fans
- Can you lower your cholesterol just by changing your diet?
- Understanding Your Cholesterol Results
- Statin Medication
How to Lower Cholesterol with Diet
What is cholesterol?
Your body needs some cholesterol to work properly. But if you have too much in your blood, it can stick to the walls of your arteries and narrow or even block them. This puts you at risk for coronary artery disease and other heart diseases.
Cholesterol travels through the blood on proteins called lipoproteins. One type, LDL, is sometimes called the “bad” cholesterol. A high LDL level leads to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries. Another type, HDL, is sometimes called the “good” cholesterol. It carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. Then your liver removes the cholesterol from your body.
What are the treatments for high cholesterol?
The treatments for high cholesterol are heart-healthy lifestyle changes and medicines. The lifestyle changes include healthy eating, weight management, and regular physical activity.
How can I lower cholesterol with diet?
Heart-healthy lifestyle changes include a diet to lower your cholesterol. The DASH eating plan is one example. Another is the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet, which recommends that you
Choose healthier fats.You should limit both total fat and saturated fat. No more than 25 to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from dietary fats, and less than 7 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fat. Depending upon how many calories you eat per day, here are the maximum amounts of fats that you should eat:
|Calories per Day||Total Fat||Saturated Fat|
|1,500||42-58 grams||10 grams|
|2,000||56-78 grams||13 grams|
|2,500||69-97 grams||17 grams|
Saturated fat is a bad fat because it raises your LDL (bad cholesterol) level more than anything else in your diet. It is found in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, and deep-fried and processed foods.
Trans fat is another bad fat; it can raise your LDL and lower you HDL (good cholesterol). Trans fat is mostly in foods made with hydrogenated oils and fats, such as stick margarine, crackers, and french fries.
Instead of these bad fats, try healthier fats, such as lean meat, nuts, and unsaturated oils like canola, olive, and safflower oils.
Limit foods with cholesterol. If you are trying to lower your cholesterol, you should have less than 200 mg a day of cholesterol. Cholesterol is in foods of animal origin, such as liver and other organ meats, egg yolks, shrimp, and whole milk dairy products.
Eat plenty of soluble fiber. Foods high in soluble fiber help prevent your digestive tract from absorbing cholesterol. These foods include
- Whole-grain cereals such as oatmeal and oat bran
- Fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears, and prunes
- Legumes such as kidney beans, lentils, chick peas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can increase important cholesterol-lowering compounds in your diet. These compounds, called plant stanols or sterols, work like soluble fiber.
Eat fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These acids won’t lower your LDL level, but they may help raise your HDL level. They may also protect your heart from blood clots and inflammation and reduce your risk of heart attack. Fish that are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna (canned or fresh), and mackerel. Try to eat these fish two times a week.
Limit salt. You should try to limit the amount of sodium (salt) that you eat to no more than 2,300 milligrams (about 1 teaspoon of salt) a day. That includes all the sodium you eat, whether it was added in cooking or at the table, or already present in food products. Limiting salt won’t lower your cholesterol, but it can lower your risk of heart diseases by helping to lower your blood pressure. You can reduce your sodium by instead choosing low-salt and “no added salt” foods and seasonings at the table or while cooking.
Limit alcohol. Alcohol adds extra calories, which can lead to weight gain. Being overweight can raise your LDL level and lower your HDL level. Too much alcohol can also increase your risk of heart diseases because it can raise your blood pressure and triglyceride level. One drink is a glass of wine, beer, or a small amount of hard liquor, and the recommendation is that
- Men should have no more than two drinks containing alcohol a day
- Women should have no more than one drink containing alcohol a day
Nutrition labels can help you figure out how much fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, fiber, and sodium is in the foods that you buy.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
How to Lower Your Cholesterol Fast in Time for Blood Tests
- If you want to save money on your life insurance (or you just enjoy confusing your doctor), follow the protocol in this article to lower your cholesterol numbers fast.
- You can dramatically raise or lower your cholesterol fast — within a few days — depending on how much fat you eat, but it doesn’t work the way you might think. Eating more fat will actually lower your cholesterol, and eating less fat will raise it.
- Cholesterol is not the artery-clogging molecule it’s made out to be. You’re better off eating an anti-inflammatory diet and keeping your triglycerides low than worrying about your cholesterol.
What if you could lower your cholesterol fast — in a matter of days — just in time for your lipid blood tests? What if you could do it naturally, just by eating more fat?
That’s a ridiculous idea. It would go against every piece of dietary advice about cholesterol that the government and most doctors have pushed for the last 60 years. Fat is supposed to raise your cholesterol and give you a heart attack, not lower it. To lower your cholesterol, the American Heart Association says you’re supposed to cut out saturated fat and eat lots of whole grains, fruits, cereal, vegetable oils, and the leanest cuts of meat possible.
Of course, if you’ve been following Bulletproof for a while, you know that cholesterol is not the artery-clogging molecule it’s made out to be. You’re better off making sure your inflammation and blood triglycerides are low instead of trying to lower your cholesterol.
And according to some powerful experiments by software engineer-turned-biohacker Dave Feldman, you can actually increase and decrease your cholesterol at will. It all depends on how much fat you eat — and, directly against mainstream dietary knowledge, the correlation is inverted. In other words, eating more fat will actually lower your cholesterol.
Here’s how Feldman learned to control his cholesterol numbers, and how you can do the same. Use his technique below to experiment on yourself and lower your cholesterol numbers so you can “ace” your lab work blood tests. You shouldn’t have to pay a premium for your life insurance policy simply because you follow a high-fat, low-carb diet.
Eating fat really lowers your cholesterol
Feldman has developed a protocol for raising and lowering his cholesterol over the course of a few days. By changing his fat intake, Feldman has manipulated his LDL (“bad”) cholesterol numbers to be as low as 98 and as high as 368 (that’s mg/dL). Here’s some of his data:
You can see a clear relationship:
- Eating less fat = higher LDL cholesterol
- Eating more fat = lower LDL cholesterol
Of course, this was an N=1 experiment, meaning there’s only one subject in his experiment. It’s possible that Feldman is unusual. He thought the same thing, so he shared his data and sent an open invitation to people to try the protocol for themselves. As of now, more than 50 people have followed Feldman’s experiment. Virtually all of them reported the same results (it’s worth noting that they’ve all been on a high-fat, low-carb diet).
These data directly contradict everything mainstream doctors have said about cholesterol for the last 60 years. How is that possible?
Why eating more fat lowers your cholesterol
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) do a lot of different things, including carry cholesterol, but their main job is to distribute energy from fat.
LDL particles are like buses: they pick up bundles of energy-rich fat called triglycerides from your liver, carry them into your bloodstream, and drop them off wherever cells need fuel.
You can get triglycerides from two places:
- Triglycerides from food. When you’re eating a lot of fat, your gut breaks it down into triglycerides and packages it up into chylomicrons, little bundles of energy that go straight into your bloodstream and out to your cells.
- Triglycerides from stored body fat. When you aren’t getting energy from food, your body turns to your fat stores. It processes them differently; they go to your liver, get broken down into triglycerides, and then get packaged up into LDL and sent into your blood for distribution.
If you aren’t eating many calories, your liver starts burning body fat for fuel, and sending it out packaged in LDL particles. That’s when your cholesterol goes up.
But if you’re eating lots of fat, your liver slows down LDL production. It kicks back and relaxes while the energy-rich chylomicrons from your gut go straight into your bloodstream and eventually to your cells. That’s when your cholesterol goes down.
So if you want to lower your cholesterol numbers fast, eat lots of fat. You’ll be getting most of your energy from chylomicrons instead of LDL.
How to do the cholesterol drop protocol
Controlling your cholesterol has a lot of valuable uses. For example:
- You could eat extra fat for a few days, drop your cholesterol, get a blood test, and show it to your health/life insurance company so they adjust your rates down. Is this ethical? Maybe.
- You can wait until your doctor congratulates you on your lower cholesterol, then reveal that you decreased it by eating as much fat as you possibly could. If you do this, tell me about your doctor’s reaction on the Bulletproof Facebook page. It will probably be worth sharing.
- You can do this protocol just for personal validation that the mainstream stance on cholesterol is wrong, or at least incomplete.
Your 7-day cholesterol lowering protocol
- Eat less. Eat significantly fewer calories than you normally would (staying low-carb, high-fat) for 3 days.
- Get blood test #1. Get a cholesterol test on the morning of day 4. Be sure you have nothing but water for 12 hours before your test. You always want to be fasted before blood tests; eating food in that window can influence the results.
- Eat a lot of fat. Starting right after your day 3 cholesterol test, eat as much fat as you can for days 4, 5, and 6. Still keep carbs low, but add fat to everything. Some people go as high as 4,000 – 5,000 calories a day.
- Get blood test #2. Get your second and final cholesterol test on the morning of day 7. Again, make sure you fast for 12 hours before the test.
According to the results almost everyone has seen so far, your cholesterol should be higher when you eat less fat, and much lower when you eat as much fat as you possibly can.
One note: Apparently Brain Octane Oil and coffee can both mess with your results, so take a break from Bulletproof Coffee during the protocol. Don’t worry; your morning cup will feel all the more powerful when you start again.
Whatever your cholesterol test results, be sure you keep the data and send it to Dave Feldman. He’s always collecting and compiling results from people, and he says on his site that he hopes to use them to get a clinical study funded soon. That would be huge.
If you want to learn more about healthy cholesterol levels, check out this article on why everything you know about cholesterol is wrong.
To dig deeper into the cholesterol drop protocol, take a look at Dave Feldman’s site, Cholesterol Code. He has great articles on how cholesterol works that are worth your time to read. Thanks for reading, and a big thanks to Feldman for his cutting-edge biohacking!
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This post is going to sound like an infomercial except this is 100% true and I’m not trying to sell you anything.
About 8 months ago my doctor told me that I had high cholesterol (242 in total) and that it needed to come down or he wanted to put me on a statin (Lipitor, or something like that). Apparently cholesterol runs in my family (my dad and sister both have high cholesterol) and despite eating pretty well and being in descent shape, mine was high too.
I’m completely against the use of statins for someone like me (see this Business Week article for a good summary of why – I’ve done quite a bit of additional research online that supports this conclusion as well). Overall, I’m skeptical of society’s current obsession with one’s cholesterol number. That said, when a friend told me about a program that he used to cut his cholesterol quickly I thought I’d check it out.
Fast-forward a few months of procrastination (“I’ll start that thing next month!”) and I finally signed up for BalancePoint. The idea behind the program is to change your metabolism from burning carbs to burning lipids (fats). To do this, you consume 65% of your calories in fat, 10%-15% from protein and the remaining 20%-25% in simple carbs. No grains, no sugar, no dairy and at least during the first two weeks, no dietary sources of cholesterol. Oh – and you have to log everything you eat, and restrict your calorie intake (in my case to between 1500 and 1800 calories a day). In practice this means eating a huge amount of olive oil and a lot of egg white omelettes, salads and tofu stir fry.
The first few days – in a word – sucked. My body wasn’t used to burning fat and protein for energy and my head was in the clouds. Plus, not eating any bread, pasta, rice or cereal was a huge change for me. Slowly, however, my body got used to my new diet and for the most part enjoyed what I was eating. I quickly dropped about 7 pounds (not exactly what I had in mind, but 1800 calories a day just won’t cut it for me) but felt pretty energized (and had much more even energy throughout the day rather than the highs and lows of the typical diet). Despite the taunting from friends and co-workers (other than Ryan who was on the program with me), I felt pretty good.
As part of the program I had my cholesterol taken on my first day and then again on my 14th (I’m on day 22 now, although after the 14 day intensive program I’ve slightly modified my diet to add in lean meats and fish and upped my calorie count a little bit in an effort to stop losing weight). The results were fantastic. My initial cholesterol dropped from 243 (up a point from my test at the doctor’s 8 months ago) to 175. My detailed analysis showed that all of my levels that were flagged as high (7 in total) were back in the “normal” range.
It’s definitely a commitment to keep this up, but I’m giving it a good go . . .
Can you lower your cholesterol just by changing your diet?
Statins are used to lower cholesterol but how much can be achieved with changes to diet alone, asks Michael Mosley.
Over the many years that I’ve been making science documentaries I’ve covered a huge range of subjects, but there is one that is of particular personal interest. My family tree is riddled with heart disease and I know that, unchecked, my cholesterol scores tend to soar.
I am not alone – 60% of people in Britain have cholesterol levels that are too high and increasingly we are recommended to go on statins. Yet statins have side effects and many people are reluctant to go on a lifetime of pills.
So, for the current series of Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, we wanted to see if you could lower your cholesterol just as effectively by changing your diet.
We asked Dr Scott Harding from Kings College London to help us set up and run a small study. With his help we recruited 42 volunteers, all of whom had concerns about their cholesterol and were keen to see what they could do without taking medication.
We started by taking blood samples to look at their current levels of total cholesterol.
Cholesterol is complicated stuff. Most of it is made in the liver and then sent to the cells that need it, bound to a lipoprotein called LDL (low density lipoprotein).
LDL is often called “bad cholesterol” because high levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. HDL (high density lipoprotein) is known as “good cholesterol” because it carries cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver.
Current recommendations are that levels of “bad” LDL-cholesterol should be less than 3mmol/l (millimoles per litre) and “good” HDL-cholesterol more than 1mmol/l.
Image copyright Thinkstock Image caption Can almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts reduce cholesterol levels?
Once we had taken their bloods, Scott randomly allocated our volunteers into three groups. Each group was asked to modify their diet in a different way.
The first group was asked to go on a traditional low cholesterol diet. They were asked to switch from animal fats (full-fat milk, full-fat cheese, butter) to vegetable-based or low-fat options. They were asked to cut out eggs, bacon and sausages, and stick to skinless chicken.
The second group wasn’t asked to give up any of the foods but were asked to eat 75g of oats a day, equivalent to three servings. Oats are full of fibre and any form of fibre – whether it is from grains, legumes (beans and lentils) or vegetables is likely to lower cholesterol by binding with fat and cholesterol in the gut and stopping it being absorbed.
The third group was asked to eat normally but to add into their diet 60g of almonds a day (two handfuls). In recent years tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts have become hugely popular thanks to studies which suggest they can lower cholesterol. Tree nuts are rich in fibre and plant sterols which may delay fat and cholesterol absorption.
Clutching their diet sheets, our happy volunteers were sent off to test their new treatments for four weeks.
Rather than doing any one diet I wanted to see if combining elements of all three diets would have a bigger effect. So I cut back a bit on bacon and sausages and added into my diet the almonds and the oats.
Image copyright Thinkstock
This approach is based on something called the Portfolio diet, developed by David AJ Jenkins in Toronto. The idea is to try lots of different cholesterol-lowering approaches at once. The full Portfolio diet includes not only nuts and oats but plant sterols and soya.
Plant sterols are found in fruit, vegetables and nuts, but in low amounts. You can also get them in fortified margarines and yoghurts.
Soya products such as soy milk and soy protein enjoy a reputation as a healthy alternative to dairy, but a few years ago the European Food Safety Authority rejected claims about the benefits of soy on the grounds that most randomised controlled studies don’t show an effect. Soy seems to work by inhibiting cholesterol synthesis in the liver. Amounts of 15-25g have been recommended in order to get the maximum effect.
How well does the Portfolio diet work? A study published in 2011 found that people who agreed to try the diet for six months saw an average reduction of about 13% in LDL-cholesterol. The best results were obtained by those who stuck closest to it.
Image copyright Science Photo Library
- Fatty substance known as a lipid, vital for normal body functioning; mainly made by the liver but can also be found in some foods
- Carried in blood by proteins with which it combines to form lipoproteins (illustrated above) – low density lipoproteins (LDLs) carry cholesterol from liver to cells, high density lipoproteins (HDLs) carries cholesterol from cells to the liver
- If LDLs have too much cholesterol, it will build up on artery walls and increase risk of heart disease and stroke
Source: NHS Choices
So how did our volunteers get on? The results were not quite as expected. The first surprise was the almond eaters.
“Half the group had a positive response,” Scott told me., “And one individual had an 18% reduction in their total cholesterol. On the other side of the coin some people had an adverse response. Their cholesterol actually went up, in some cases significantly.”
The raised levels of cholesterol in some almond eaters balanced the falls in others. On average there was no change.
The porridge eaters and the low-animal-fat group did rather better, with an average fall in LDL-cholesterol of 10% and 13% respectively.
The biggest surprise, however, was me. My LDL cholesterol fell by an impressive 42%. This is in line with what most people experience who go on statins.
What should I eat to cut my cholesterol? BBC iWonder
Why did I do so well? Hard to say. It could be that my combination approach (Portfolio-lite) worked better than doing things in isolation or it could be that my body responds more dramatically to a combination of oats, almonds and bacon-skipping than most people.
So the answer is yes, you can drop your cholesterol significantly through modest changes to diet, but to get as big an effect as you would through taking statins you would probably need to combine a number of different approaches.
The best advice would be to get your bloods taken before and after any dietary change to understand what works best for you.
Trust Me I’m A Doctor continues its new series on BBC Two at 20:00 BST on Wednesday 22 July – or watch on BBC iPlayer
Subscribe to the BBC News Magazine’s email newsletter to get articles sent to your inbox.
How long does it take to lower cholesterol?
It often depends on several variables, including how aggressive your treatment is, your genetic tendencies (for example, some people’s cholesterol levels shoot down quickly while others’ inch down), and how high your cholesterol levels are to begin with.
But one thing is for sure: The higher the LDL and non-HDL cholesterol concentration in your blood, the more plaque build-up you’re likely to have in your arteries, and the more inflamed – and damaged – your artery walls become, leading to progressive vessel blockage and weakness.
That’s why it’s so critical to lower your LDL and non-HDL cholesterol as quickly and effectively as possible.
How long does it take to lower cholesterol with diet and exercise guidelines like the Pritikin Program? For most people, levels drop dramatically within three weeks.
What’s heartening to know is that many people do not need to rely on prescription drugs – and their possible side effects – to reduce their cholesterol. The right healthy lifestyle, in and of itself, can produce dramatic reductions in cholesterol, and in just two to three weeks.
One such lifestyle is the Pritikin Program of diet and exercise. Research on thousands of men and women who began the Pritikin Program have documented that LDL falls on average 23% within three weeks, and non-HDL falls 24%1 So effective is Pritikin in reducing cardiovascular risk factors like cholesterol that Medicare now covers education programs in Pritikin living for people with heart disease who meet eligibility criteria.
What is the Pritikin diet?
The Pritikin diet significantly reduces saturated fatty acids (found in foods like red meat, cheese, butter, whole milk, and tropical oils like coconut oil) trans fatty acids (partially hydrogenated oils), and dietary cholesterol. It also increases dietary fiber in the form of natural, nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. “This is the healthiest way to lower cholesterol,” points out cardiologist Ronald Scheib, MD, physician and educator at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, where the Pritikin Program has been taught since 1975.
How low should your LDL and non-HDL be?
Numerous studies have found that an LDL level above 100, even in otherwise healthy patients, will lead to the growth of damaging plaques. Research suggests that LDL levels significantly lower than 100 are optimal. For example, one major study involving more than 8,800 European patients found that LDL cholesterol levels of 81 were even better than levels of 104 in preventing death, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular-related problems in people with heart disease. 2
And recently, a six-year study involving 18,000 people with heart disease affirmed that for reducing LDL levels, the lower, the better. The study was reported at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association.3 Half the subjects lowered their LDL, on average, to 69; the other half reduced LDL to 54. Both groups were rewarded with few heart events over the six-year period, but the group with the lower LDL, 54, ended up the winner. It had 6.4% fewer events – heart attacks, heart disease deaths, strokes, bypass surgeries, stent procedures, and hospitalizations for severe chest pains – than the group with the higher LDL.
For non-HDL, an optimal goal for people with clear evidence of heart disease is less than 80. A good goal for healthy individuals wanting to prevent heart disease is less than 100.
Does lowering your cholesterol protect you from ever having a heart attack?
Not necessarily. Since their arrival in the 1990s in Americans’ medicine cabinets nationwide, statin drugs have indeed proven very effective for reducing high LDL levels, and they do slow the progression of cholesterol-filled plaques. “But sadly, the #1 cause of death in Americans taking statins to lower their elevated LDL levels is still heart attacks,” states Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, LDN, one of the many faculty who teach wellness education and nutrition workshops at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
Understanding Your Cholesterol Results
The results of a cholesterol test can be as confusing as they are important. Learn the difference between LDL and HDL, and how to lower your cholesterol. What do my cholesterol results mean?
That’s because lowering heart attack risk is not just a matter of lowering cholesterol. There are many other factors that damage artery walls and increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke, including:
- High glucose levels (blood sugar)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke
- Increased tendency towards blood clotting
- High triglycerides (blood fats)
- Remnants of triglycerides, called VLDL and chylomicrons, that flood the blood right after a fatty meal and promote the growth of cholesterol-filled plaques
- Elevated high-sensitivity C-reactive protein levels, which are associated with inflammation that weakens and destabilizes plaques, leading to plaque rupture and a heart attack
- Excess weight, especially abdominal weight (belly fat)
- Stress associated with anger and hostility
- A sedentary lifestyle
How long does it take to lower cholesterol with medication? It depends on the dosage. The higher the dosage, the greater the reductions, but higher dosages often bring greater risk of side effects.
Statins do not eliminate the above artery killers, but healthy living plans like the Pritikin Program can. When you exercise daily and eat well – an abundance of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and very little salt, fat, sugar, and refined (“white”) carbohydrates – the following benefits happen, demonstrated in more than 100 peer-reviewed studies on the Pritikin Program:
- Decreased LDL and non-HDL cholesterol levels, and
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased blood glucose (sugar) and insulin levels
- Loss of excess body fat
- Decreased levels of inflammatory factors
- Decreased fasting and postprandial (after meal) triglyceride levels, generally associated with decreased VLDL and chylomicrons
A healthy diet and lifestyle can also enhance the benefits of statin drugs. Research, for instance, by scientists at UCLA found that combining the Pritikin Program with statin drugs was far more effective than statins alone for lowering LDL cholesterol. The scientists followed 93 men and women who had decided to come to the Pritikin Longevity Center after already being on statins for several months and lowering their cholesterol on average 20%. After three weeks at the Center, these people lowered their cholesterol an additional 19%.4
What role does genetics play in determining cholesterol levels?
In addition to environmental factors like diet and drugs, inherited genetic factors influence an individual’s cholesterol level and how that level responds to various cholesterol-lowering strategies.
However, environmental influences are probably significantly more important. The Tarahumara Indians of northwestern Mexico, for example, traditionally have low cholesterol levels; you could say “it’s in their genes.” But a study by scientists at Oregon Health Sciences University found that the Tarahumaras’ cholesterol levels rose sharply, and in just a few weeks, when they were directed by the researchers to switch from their traditional fiber-rich, plant-based diet to a Western-style diet full of cheese, butter, oils, egg yolks, white flour, soft drinks, and sugar.5
Learn the pros and cons of lowering cholesterol with medication.
Get the facts about your heart, Niacin and Cholesterol
Fortunately, the converse is also true. Research found that within three weeks, among 4,587 people who came to the Pritikin Longevity Center, LDL cholesterol fell on average 23%. Non-HDL dropped 24%.6 Children respond well, too. In one study,7 the LDL cholesterol levels of American kids plummeted 25% after two weeks at Pritikin. In another study,8 also following children at Pritikin, LDL fell 27%, and again, in two weeks. All these studies suggest that lifestyle is more important than genetics in determining cholesterol levels in most individuals.
Data on older U.S. women are intriguing, too. Though they often experience a 30 to 40 point rise in their LDL cholesterol in their menopausal and postmenopausal years, research has found that the opposite happens at the Pritikin Longevity Center; women reduce their cholesterol levels within two to three weeks of starting the Pritikin Program.9
How long does it take to lower cholesterol without medication? Lifestyle changes alone, like the Pritikin Program, can yield excellent results within just three weeks.
How long does it take to lower cholesterol? Often, just a matter of weeks.
If your doctor recommends statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications, but all means take them. “But don’t stop there,” recommends Pritikin cardiolologist Ronald Scheib, MD, FACC. “Give yourself the best chance of living heart-attack-free by adopting a healthy lifestyle like Pritikin. If you can, come to Pritikin for education in everything from fitness to cooking classes. In doing so, you’re not only lowering your cholesterol, you’re helping eliminate virtually all environmental factors that harm your heart.”
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