People who wish to lower their cholesterol levels are likely to find that making lasting changes to their diet and lifestyle is more effective than trying quick fixes.

Lifestyle changes can sometimes lower cholesterol levels relatively quickly. People may notice the effects in as little as a few weeks.

However, to see a lasting change in their cholesterol levels, a person will need to stick to their lifestyle adjustments and any medications that a doctor recommends to control the issue.

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Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that the liver produces. In the body, cholesterol plays a key role in forming cells and breaking down some types of fatty acids. The body creates all the cholesterol it needs.

Dietary cholesterol is the other source of cholesterol, coming from the foods a person eats. Cholesterol appears in animal foods such as meat, egg yolk, and full fat dairy products.

Regularly eating these products adds more cholesterol to the body and raises the levels of cholesterol in the blood.

Additionally, some fats and oils may stimulate the liver to make more cholesterol, potentially increasing the levels even more.

A report in Circulation notes that almost 38% of adults in the United States have high cholesterol. The report defined high blood cholesterol as levels over 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).

High cholesterol levels increase a person’s risk of heart disease and serious events, such as heart attack and stroke.

Various factors play into a person’s overall risk of disease, but lowering high blood cholesterol may help reduce that risk.

People who need to use medications such as statins to lower their cholesterol should see their cholesterol levels fall quickly.

These medications may work in a matter of weeks, and they generally work to a larger degree than lifestyle changes.

However, because diet affects the levels of cholesterol in the body, doctors commonly recommend that people make changes to their diet and lifestyle in addition to taking medications.

Making simple changes to the diet and lifestyle can help reduce cholesterol.

These changes vary depending on how strictly a person adheres to their diet, as well as other factors, such as exercise and weight loss.

Some dietary changes may cause minor reductions in cholesterol in as little as 4 weeks. Most people can expect to see the difference in a few months on a heart-healthy diet plan.

Dietary and lifestyle changes and medications can all help lower blood cholesterol levels.

Medications

For people who have dangerously high cholesterol, doctors will often recommend medications to help bring blood pressure down.

The standard treatment generally begins with statins. These drugs help lower the amount of cholesterol that the body makes. They also reduce inflammation around cholesterol plaques.

This reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, raises high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and lowers triglyceride levels.

The American Heart Association (AHA) also note that statins are the only type of cholesterol-lowering drug that research has directly linked to a reduction in the risk of major events such as heart attack or stroke.

That said, statins do have some side effects, which may be worse on higher doses.

Some other medications may be required as well, depending on the person’s underlying risk factors. Other medications may include:

  • Resins: These drugs stimulate the body to get rid of excess cholesterol.
  • Selective cholesterol absorption inhibitors: These help prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol.
  • PCSK9 inhibitors: These lower LDL cholesterol by binding to proteins in the liver.
  • Fibrates: These drugs target and lower triglycerides in the blood.

Supplements such as niacin and omega-3 fatty acids may also play a role.

A person should talk to a doctor to find a medication for cholesterol that works for them.

Dietary and lifestyle changes

Dietary and lifestyle changes are key to making lasting changes in cholesterol levels.

Although they do not produce results as quickly as medications do, a person may notice their cholesterol levels drop in just a few weeks or months if they stick to a healthful diet and lifestyle plan.

Increase intake of plant foods

Plant foods are rich in vitamins and nutrients, and they lack cholesterol.

Most plant foods also lack saturated fats, which may increase cholesterol in the body.

A review published in Nutrition Reviews noted that people who ate vegetarian diets had significantly lower cholesterol levels compared with omnivores.

The authors also noted that some targeted diets using plant foods might cause stronger effects.

For example, a diet rich in soluble fiber, plant sterols, and vegetable protein sources, such as soy and nuts, reduced LDL cholesterol by an average of 28.6% in just 4 weeks.

These effects continue over the long term. A review in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases estimated that this type of diet reduces the 10-year risk of coronary heart disease by about 13%.

People who need to reduce their cholesterol quickly can work with a dietitian to create a targeted diet plan.

Increase fiber intake

While adding plant foods to the diet increases fiber intake naturally, it may also be helpful to take a fiber supplement or over-the-counter fiber drink to support the body.

Fiber keeps the digestive system healthy and may help prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol.

The AHA note that a high fiber diet alone may reduce a person’s cholesterol levels by as much as 10%.

Avoid trans fats

Avoiding trans fats from foods such as fried foods, shelf-stable foods, and baked goods is important for cholesterol health.

Trans fats are chemically processed and raise cholesterol levels in the body.

Limit saturated fats

Saturated fats do not contribute to cholesterol directly. However, they activate the liver to produce more cholesterol. This may add to cholesterol levels.

The AHA recommend limiting saturated fats to 5–6% of daily calorie intake. That would be 100–120 calories worth of saturated fats for a person who eats 2,000 calories a day.

Quit tobacco

Tobacco smokers generally have lower levels of HDL cholesterol while having elevated levels of other risk factors, such as blood triglycerides.

Quitting tobacco may help bring up levels of HDL cholesterol and balance the total cholesterol.

Exercise

Regular exercise is an important part of lowering cholesterol because it may help bring up HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL cholesterol.

Exercising also helps manage other risk factors for heart disease, such as helping with weight loss and strengthening the heart.

It is important to note that these are long-term changes rather than quick fixes for high cholesterol.

However, people who stick to these changes may see noticeable results for longer periods.

People with high cholesterol are at an increased risk of heart disease and major heart events.

Doctors may recommend medications such as statins to manage dangerously high blood pressure. A person taking these drugs may notice changes in their cholesterol levels in as little as a few weeks.

Doctors will also recommend dietary and lifestyle changes to support healthy cholesterol levels.

These changes may cause noticeable beneficial effects in a few weeks or months.

However, these changes are not a quick fix. The best way to reduce cholesterol levels over the long term is to make lasting changes to the diet and lifestyle.