Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that the liver produces. It is also present in animal-based foods. Cholesterol supports many essential bodily functions, but high levels may lead to health issues.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a person’s lifestyle choices are the leading cause of high cholesterol. However, genetics, certain medical conditions, and medications can also contribute to high cholesterol.

Having high cholesterol does not cause symptoms, but it can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Doctors may prescribe statins or other medications to help lower a person’s cholesterol levels.

Studies have shown that statins lower the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. However, these medications may cause side effects.

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

For more science-backed resources on nutrition, visit our dedicated hub.

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Trans unsaturated fatty acids (trans fats) are unsaturated fats that have undergone an industrial process known as hydrogenation, which involves heating vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen and a catalyst. Food manufacturers use trans fats because they are relatively inexpensive and long-lasting.

Sources of trans fats may include:

  • margarine
  • vegetable shortening
  • partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
  • fried foods
  • certain processed and prepackaged foods

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.

Saturated fats generally stay solid at room temperature, whereas unsaturated fats are usually liquid. Dietary sources of saturated fats may include:

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

The AHA recommends that saturated fat should only represent about 56% of a person’s daily calorie intake. A diet high in saturated fats may raise a person’s LDL cholesterol levels.

Excess LDL cholesterol can accumulate and form hard deposits in the arteries, which may lead to the condition atherosclerosis.

Nuts and some other types of food are rich in monounsaturated fats. These fats take the form of liquids at room temperature. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include:

The researchers of a 2018 study found that monounsaturated fat from plant sources may lower the risk of heart disease more than monounsaturated fat from animal sources.

However, the researchers highlighted that further conclusive research is necessary as the study results came from observational findings.

Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both omega-3 and omega-6 are known as essential fatty acids. Essential refers to the fact that the body cannot produce these oils, and a person can only get them directly from food sources.

Evidence notes that consuming these fats instead of saturated fat can have a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol levels by reducing LDL cholesterol without affecting HDL 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 helps to support digestive health and also aids in trapping fats, meaning the body cannot absorb them. As such, soluble fiber can help to lower levels of LDL cholesterol.

Foods rich in soluble fiber include:

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most Americans do not consume the recommended amount of dietary fiber. The recommended amount is around 28 grams a 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. This includes helping to lower bad cholesterol levels and raising good cholesterol levels.

For example, the results of 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 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity a 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 here.

Getting enough good-quality sleep is important for health. How much sleep a person requires changes with age, and research suggests that most adults should aim for 7 or more hours of sleep per night.

Other evidence indicates that there is an association between short sleep duration or poor sleep quality with higher cholesterol levels.

However, researchers are still trying to understand how sleep affects cholesterol. Some research suggests that HDL levels are lower in people with insufficient sleep. Whereas other research indicates that too little or too much sleep can result in low HDL levels.

Overall, poor sleep duration and quality appear to negatively impact cholesterol, but it is not clear exactly why or how it does. Therefore, it may be beneficial for general health and cholesterol management for a person to develop good sleep hygiene practices.

Learn more about sleep apnea and high cholesterol here.

Smoking can lead to high cholesterol levels as it can reduce the circulating level of HDL.

Additionally, the chemicals present in cigarette smoke can cause LDL to become stickier and also damage the lining of blood vessels, making them swollen and inflamed. As such, smoking can make it difficult to control cholesterol levels and increases the risk of a potential clog in the arteries.

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 and getting sufficient amounts is extremely important for good health and essential for good liver health.

The liver plays a key role in managing cholesterol levels as it helps to break down cholesterol. If the liver is not able to function correctly then it may cause cholesterol to build up in the body.

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 here.

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is present in every cell in the body. Although having too much cholesterol can increase the risk of adverse health effects, the body needs cholesterol to build cell membranes and to produce:

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.

High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits building up on the walls of arteries, which increases a person’s risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

HDL cholesterol collects LDL cholesterol and other fats from the arteries and transports them back to the liver. The liver disposes of excess cholesterol by converting it into a digestive fluid called bile.

Although people should aim to have more HDL cholesterol than LDL cholesterol, experts recommend that adults keep their blood levels of total cholesterol below 200 milligrams per deciliter.

Learn more about cholesterol levels by age here.

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, quitting smoking, maintaining healthy body weight, limiting alcohol intake, and getting enough good-quality sleep.