Cholesterol supports many essential bodily functions, but high levels can lead to health issues. Dietary measures and exercise may help lower cholesterol levels, although some people will also need medication.

The liver naturally produces all of the cholesterol that the body needs. However, certain foods contain cholesterol, and other foods can trigger the liver to produce more of it.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, lifestyle choices are the leading cause of high cholesterol.

This article explores some natural ways to lower cholesterol without medication. It also discusses what cholesterol is and why high levels can be harmful.

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Trans unsaturated fatty acids (trans fats) are unsaturated fats that can occur naturally in foods, or that manufacturers make via an industrial process known as hydrogenation, which involves heating vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen and a catalyst.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), consuming trans fats can negatively affect a person’s health in two different ways. Firstly, they can raise blood levels of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol. They may also reduce blood levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol.

LDL cholesterol can accumulate in the arteries and increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned companies from adding trans fats to food products in 2015. The deadline for removing these ingredients from existing products was in 2021.

However, small amounts of trans fats can occur naturally in some foods, such as red meat and dairy products. People can reduce these foods to avoid their trans fat content.

Saturated fat is a type of fat with potential links to cholesterol. The AHA recommends that saturated fat should only represent about 5% to 6% of a person’s daily calorie intake.

Dietary sources of saturated fats include:

Fish also contain saturated fat, but in lesser amounts than other meats.

It is often possible to identify saturated fats by their consistency. Saturated fats generally stay solid at room temperature.

Monounsaturated or “healthy” fats may help to reduce LDL cholesterol. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include:

Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both omega-3 and omega-6 are known as essential fatty acids.

Consuming these fats instead of saturated fat can have a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol levels by reducing LDL cholesterol.

Dietary sources of polyunsaturated fats include:

  • some types of nuts, such as walnuts
  • some seeds, including sunflower seeds
  • plant oils, such as soybean, corn, and sunflower oils
  • other soybean products, such as tofu and edamame beans

Eating foods high in fiber can be beneficial for blood cholesterol levels. There are two kinds of dietary fiber — soluble and insoluble.

When a person consumes soluble fiber, it absorbs water and creates a thick, gel-like paste in a person’s intestines. This gel aids in trapping fats and dietary cholesterol, meaning the body cannot absorb them.

Foods rich in soluble fiber include:

According to the FDA, most Americans do not consume the recommended amount of dietary fiber. The recommended amount is around 28 grams per day based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet.

However, it is worth noting that consuming too much soluble fiber may lead to constipation, bloating, and stomach pain. People should try to increase their soluble fiber intake gradually over time.

Regular exercise benefits a person’s health in many ways. It also helps to lower bad cholesterol levels and raise good cholesterol levels.

A 2019 study involving 425 older adults demonstrated that moderate and vigorous physical activity lowered blood pressure and blood sugar levels and increased HDL cholesterol levels.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week for substantial health benefits. A person can spread this activity throughout the week.

People new to exercise may want to start with lower-intensity activities and gradually build the intensity of their workouts. Additionally, individuals with chronic conditions or disabilities should consult a doctor to determine what type of physical activity and how much is right for them.

Learn more about exercises to lower cholesterol.

Smoking and vaping can lead to high cholesterol levels. It can also cause more cholesterol to stick to the walls of arteries, and lower good cholesterol.

By quitting smoking, a person can lower their LDL and increase their HDL cholesterol levels. This can help to slow the buildup of new fatty deposits in arteries and support overall health.

Learn more about quitting smoking here.

Regularly drinking water is essential to to health, including the health of the liver, which is responsible for breaking down cholesterol.

A 2021 study investigating the role of hydration for metabolic health in older adults found that hydration was associated with higher HDL cholesterol concentrations. This suggests that in addition to being a healthy beverage option, drinking water may help to control cholesterol levels.

Learn more about drinks that may help lower cholesterol.

Cholesterol supports many essential bodily functions, such as cell membrane formation and hormone production. However, having high levels of LDL cholesterol can increase a person’s risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

People can naturally lower their cholesterol levels by adopting dietary and lifestyle changes. This can include changing the types of fats they eat, consuming soluble fiber, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking, if relevant.