Are There Ways to Lower Cholesterol Besides Using Statins?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Are there any other ways to lower cholesterol besides using statins?

Expert Answer

Carolyn Strimike, N.P. and Margie Latrella, N.P. are cardiac nurse practitioners specializing in the prevention of heart disease and stroke. They have over 40 years of nursing experience in Cardiology between them. The main goal of their work is to counsel, motivate and empower women to adopt healthy lifestyle choices.

There are some simple steps to take to lower cholesterol without using statins. But you need to look at the whole picture, which isn't just total cholesterol -- it's levels of LDL, or "bad" cholesterol; HDL, or "good" cholesterol; and triglycerides.

One of the best ways to lower triglycerides and bad cholesterol is to boost good cholesterol. This is one piece of the picture that most people overlook, and it's the number that's easiest to shift. Diet and exercise can have a big effect on your HDL level. We tell our patients to eat oily fish such as salmon and tuna twice a week and take fish oil supplements to raise HDL. To lower LDL, cut out fried and fatty foods. This will lower triglycerides, as well. Stay away from carbohydrates from white rice and white flour, which the body turns into triglycerides.

Exercise has also been shown to boost levels of good cholesterol. As little as ten minutes at a time can have a beneficial effect, with your goal being 30 minutes a day total. And it doesn't have to be something rigorous like jogging; it can be walking, gardening, or mowing the lawn.

To really understand what's going on with your cholesterol, we recommend more individual tests in addition to the standard blood test for LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol. Lipoprotein panels, also called subfraction analysis, are much more sensitive. These tests measure the size and pattern of cholesterol particles, which is important information because particle size can indicate how easy it will be to affect cholesterol levels with lifestyle changes. Bigger cholesterol particles are better; they don't cause as many problems. If you have small molecules of cholesterol, it's harder for the body to eliminate them. And people with small molecule cholesterol are three to four times as likely to have a heart attack. So knowing you had small molecules of cholesterol, known as Pattern B, doctors would probably choose to be more aggressive with statin treatment.

Talk to your doctor about having a lipoprotein panel done, then discuss lifestyle changes that are likely to be most beneficial for your particular situation.