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Can You Lower Cholesterol Without Medications Like Statins?

Learn how to lower your cholesterol naturally and without the use of medications like statins. Discover effective lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, and natural remedies to improve your heart health.

Amy Brownstein
By Amy Brownstein
a woman is holding a small house in her hand
Edited by Ivana Markovic

Updated May 28, 2024.

A person lowering cholesterol through healthy foods.

High cholesterol is prevalent in today's world, silently accumulating in your bloodstream and increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease. Statin medications are a well-established treatment approach, but some individuals may experience side effects or prefer a more natural path.

The good news is that medication might not be your only option. We'll explore powerful lifestyle changes, including dietary interventions and exercise strategies, that can demonstrably lower your cholesterol.

Key takeaways

  • Statins and cholesterol-lowering medications may be necessary for some people to lower cholesterol, and continued use is needed to maintain healthy levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications.
  • Certain lifestyle factors can help to naturally lower elevated cholesterol levels and support heart health. 
  • Trans fat and saturated fat significantly affect blood cholesterol levels. Guidelines recommend avoiding trans fat and limiting saturated fat to less than 10% of total daily caloric intake. 
  • Dietary modifications—such as opting for polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and increasing soluble fiber—can help lower cholesterol levels naturally and encourage greater overall health. 
  • Exercise helps naturally raise HDL and lower LDL and total cholesterol concentrations. 

What does high cholesterol mean?

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in cells. It participates in digestive processes and helps produce hormones and vitamin D. Since the body makes all of the necessary amounts for routine processes, having an excess of it is unhealthy for you. [1]

When people talk about high cholesterol, they’re usually referring to low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which we know as “bad” cholesterol. Clinicians usually consider 100 mg/dL optimal levels of LDL. [2]

On the other hand, we have high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as “good” cholesterol. It removes excess plaque from circulation to prevent damage to blood vessels. [3] 

For most people, food with cholesterol in it has minimal impact on serum levels in the blood. Instead, you affect it by eating saturated fat and carbohydrates.

What are statins?

Statins are medications that manage high cholesterol by lowering LDL, triglyceride, and total cholesterol levels while also raising the concentration of HDL cholesterol.

They work by inhibiting the enzyme hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA reductase (HMG-CoA) to decrease cholesterol production in the liver, especially apolipoprotein B. They also encourage the removal of more LDL cholesterol from circulation, bringing it into the liver for excretion.​​ [4] 

» Read more on total cholesterol value and its matter

When do doctors prescribe statins?

Physicians usually decide to prescribe statins based on the number of cardiovascular risk factors—diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, or smoking—and the estimated 10-year risk of a cardiac event. [5,6] 

For some people, lifestyle modifications, such as diet and exercise, may allow them to reduce the dosage or discontinue statins. However, they should always consult their healthcare provider before making any changes to medications.

For those at high risk or with a history of heart attacks or stroke, the American Heart Association discourages discontinuing statins, as these medications can reduce the risk of cardiac events by up to 50 percent. [7]

While statins are vital to ensure optimal heart health in people at high risk of cardiac events, lifestyle interventions may also sufficiently lower cholesterol in some individuals with borderline high levels. Routine bloodwork allows you to track progress so you can enact changes before problems arise.

Natural ways to lower cholesterol

Certain dietary recommendations and participating in physical activity can help you naturally lower cholesterol levels or help maintain optimal cholesterol levels.

1. Avoid trans fats

Research shows that trans fats—found mainly in processed foods—raise LDL and total cholesterol levels while lowering HDL cholesterol. Guidelines recommend avoiding them due to their association with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. [8] 

2. Limit saturated fat intake

A high saturated fat intake increases ApoB, LDL cholesterol, and total serum concentrations. [9] The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend people reduce the intake of it. We can predominantly find it in animal products and processed foods—to less than 10% of daily calories. [10] 

3. Opt for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats

Monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fatty acids are considered healthy because of their beneficial effects on cholesterol levels. MUFAs are found in olive oil, nuts, and avocados

One study found MUFAs lowered LDL cholesterol in a dose-dependent manner. Consuming 51% compared to 25% of fat intake in the form of monounsaturated fats more significantly reduced LDL cholesterol concentrations. [11] Another one found replacing saturated fat with MUFAs decreased total cholesterol by 12% and LDL cholesterol by 15%. [12]

On the other hand, PUFAs include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which you can find in fatty fish like trout, herring, salmon, soybean, corn, and safflower.

In one study, swapping these sources reduced total cholesterol by 19% and LDL cholesterol by 22%. [12] This means that replacing saturated fat with them has an even more pronounced effect on cholesterol levels than with MUFAs. [13]

Despite the beneficial effects, you should be mindful of portion size. Excessive intakes of calories—no matter the source—can contribute to changes in body composition and insulin resistance.

foods to improve cholesterol

» Are eggs good for your health? Learn more here

4. Increase soluble fiber intake

Soluble fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that binds to bile—a digestive juice made of cholesterol—and directs its removal from the body. The process results in reduced circulating levels of cholesterol. [14]

Pulses—beans, lentils, and peas—are a rich source of soluble fiber. In one study, eating 1.5 cups per day lowered total cholesterol by 8.3% and LDL cholesterol levels by 7.9% compared to a regular diet. [15]

Some forms of soluble fiber, like psyllium husk and beta-glucan, are even more effective at lowering cholesterol levels. These forms create a gel-like, viscous solution in the body that more aggressively traps LDL for removal.

They also lover Apolipoprotein B and total serum levels of cholesterol. You should ideally aim for two, five-gram servings of psyllium husk daily to help reduce cholesterol levels. [14,16,17] 

Research suggest that oats can be beneficial. One randomized control trial of healthy people consuming three grams per day of beta-glucans—abundant in oats —resulted in a 15.1% decrease in LDL cholesterol levels and an 8.9% reduction in total cholesterol concentration after eight weeks of supplementation. [18]

Another study found consuming 50-100 grams of oats (the equivalent of half to a one cup of oatmeal) daily lowered total and LDL cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes. [19] 

» Discover if shrimp raise your cholesterol

5. Exercise can help lower cholesterol

  • Yoga: Practicing yoga can lower LDL and total cholesterol concentrations and triglyceride levels. [20,21]
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT): Squeezing in a 55 HIIT workout can lower triglycerides and total and LDL cholesterols while increasing HDL and improving VO2max—a marker of cardiovascular endurance. [22,23]
  • Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise: Participating in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for an average of 40 to 60 minutes three times a week can increase HDL concentrations and decrease total and LDL cholesterol. [24,25] 

6. Certain supplements may help lower cholesterol

Sometimes, supplements may help. But before starting, it’s always best to consult your healthcare provider to see whether it will be safe and effective for you. 

Here are some of the supplements that may decrease your cholesterol:

  • Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA): Short-chain fatty acid produced in the body and found in some foods. It’s involved in lipid metabolism and acts as an antioxidant. Supplementing with ALA can decrease triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL in people with elevated lipid profiles. [26] 
  • Garlic powder: One meta-analysis found that garlic decreased total and LDL cholesterol by an average of 15 mg/dL and 8 mg/dL. [27] There's also another one, which found that it increased HDL by 10 mg/dL. [28] 
  • Plant sterols/phytosterols: Because of their similar molecular structures, plant sterols and cholesterol compete for absorption. One meta-analysis found consuming one and a half to three grams a day of decreased LDL by an average of 12 mg/dL. A two gram dose might also be effective, according to other studies [29]

First line of defense for lowering cholesterol

While lifestyle changes like a healthy diet and exercise can significantly lower your cholesterol, they may not be enough for everyone. If you have high cholesterol, talk to your doctor about creating a personalized plan that may include medication like statins to ensure safe levels

Alternatively, consider the InsideTracker Ultimate Plan It analyzes bloodwork and factors in your lifestyle habits to offer science backed recommendations to improve your cholesterol so you can live healthier, longer. By retesting every few months, you can track changes and see if the tips helped.