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Controlling cholesterol levels – Do supplements help?

The main goal of heart health is to maintain a healthy cholesterol level. People often wonder if taking supplements will help lower cholesterol, even though diet and exercise should be the foundation. 

Your body’s cells contain waxy, fat-like substances called cholesterol. It produces enough cholesterol on its own for the body’s basic needs and needs some cholesterol to function properly. Cholesterol is also made in the liver and processed in the body by the liver. But when you eat foods that also contain cholesterol (like meat, eggs, and dairy), too much builds up in your blood. Elevated LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in particular is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke while higher HDL (“good”) cholesterol has a protective effect. Lifestyle changes and in some cases, medication prescribed by a doctor are recommended to help control high cholesterol.

Can supplements help? 

Are supplements an effective addition to your cholesterol-lowering game plan? Let’s look into some of the most popular possibilities.

  • Fish oil – Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA that have been shown in some studies to help slightly lower triglycerides and raise HDL. Higher doses (over 3 grams daily) are needed for the best effect. Fish oil is a helpful addition for those with high triglycerides but is not considered powerful enough on its own to treat high cholesterol.
  • Soluble fiber – Fiber doesn’t get absorbed and helps bind to cholesterol in the digestive tract before it enters the bloodstream to lower LDL. Soluble fiber from oats, barley, legumes, psyllium, or supplements is helpful as part of a heart-healthy eating plan. But focus on getting your fiber from whole food sources first.
  • Plant stanols/sterols – Stanols and sterols are substances found naturally in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and oils that help block a small percentage of cholesterol absorption. They have been added to products from orange juice to margarine and yogurt drinks. The number of servings needed daily for the best benefit makes it challenging to get enough from foods alone. A supplement is easiest if this interests you.
  • CoQ10, red yeast rice – Other supplements like Coenzyme Q10 and red yeast rice have also shown potential for slightly improving cholesterol levels in studies but have side effects or interact with medications. It’s important to talk to your doctor first before trying these supplements.

Power of nutrition and lifestyle 

Research clearly shows that eating an overall heart-healthy diet focused on whole foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and lean protein – substantially lowers LDL and triglyceride levels as well as raises protective HDL. Exercise and loss of excess weight also provide significant cholesterol-lowering results. For managing cholesterol levels, nutrition and lifestyle choices move the needle the most. Work cholesterol supplements cautiously and as recommended by your doctor only after you’ve addressed your core diet. Getting regular check-ups and testing your cholesterol every 6 or 12 months allows you to track your numbers to see what’s working for you.