Cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins, may reduce cholesterol to moderate levels within 6 weeks. Dietary and lifestyle interventions may take several months to lower cholesterol.
Doctors may prescribe statins and other cholesterol-lowering medications for people with, or at high risk of, cardiovascular disease.
While lifestyle and diet changes typically take longer to reduce circulating cholesterol levels, they are critical to long-term management.
This article discusses the different ways to reduce cholesterol and how long they can take.
Medications such as statins can lower cholesterol levels quickly – often working within a matter of weeks.
However, long-term, sustainable diet lifestyle changes are key to overall cholesterol management. These changes vary depending on a person’s adherence. Other factors, such as exercise and reaching a moderate body weight, also play a role.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): People often refer to this as bad cholesterol. High LDL levels increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL): People often call this good cholesterol, as it can reduce the risk of adverse cardiac events.
- Triglycerides: These are a type of fat that the body uses for energy.
In the body, cholesterol plays a role in cell function and the breakdown of some types of fatty acids. The body can create all the cholesterol it needs.
Dietary cholesterol is the other source. This enters a person’s bloodstream
High cholesterol levels increase a person’s risk of heart disease and serious events, such as heart attack and stroke. Various factors affect a person’s overall disease risk, but lowering high blood cholesterol may help reduce that risk.
Optimal cholesterol levels for adults are:
|Cholesterol type||Milligrams per deciliter (mg/DL)|
|Total||125 – 200|
|LDL (bad)||less than 100|
|HDL (good)||more than 40|
|Triglycerides||less than 150|
Dietary and lifestyle changes and medications can all help lower blood cholesterol levels.
Doctors will often recommend medication therapy for individuals who have a high cholesterol level. Depending on whether a person has other health conditions, they may also require medication to lower their blood pressure.
Doctors typically prescribe statins as the first-line treatment to reduce cholesterol levels. These drugs help decrease the amount of cholesterol that the body makes. They also reduce inflammation of blood vessels with cholesterol plaques.
If a person has any underlying risk factors, they may require some other medications as well, including:
- Bile acid resins: These drugs help the body dispose of excess cholesterol through the intestines into the stool.
- 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.
Dietary and lifestyle changes
Dietary and lifestyle adjustments are key to making lasting changes in cholesterol levels.
Although they might not produce results as quickly as medications, a person may notice their cholesterol levels drop in a few weeks or months if they follow a specific diet and lifestyle plan.
Increase intake of plant foods
Increase fiber intake
Fiber helps keep the digestive system healthy and may help prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol.
The American Heart Association (AHA) notes that a high fiber diet alone
Limit trans and saturated fats
Avoiding foods that contain trans fats, such as fried foods, shelf-stable foods, and baked goods, is important for cholesterol health. Chemically processed trans fats raise cholesterol levels in the body.
Saturated fats may also add to high cholesterol levels. The AHA recommends limiting saturated fats to
Individuals who smoke tobacco typically have lower HDL cholesterol levels and elevated levels of other cholesterols, such as blood LDL.
If you smoke, quitting smoking may help increase HDL cholesterol levels and balance the total cholesterol level.
Exercise also helps manage other risk factors for heart disease by helping people reach and maintain moderate body weight and strengthen the heart.
Individuals with high cholesterol are at increased risk of heart disease and major heart events.
Doctors may recommend medications such as statins to help manage high cholesterol levels. A person taking these drugs may notice changes in their cholesterol levels in as little as a few weeks.
Doctors typically 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.