Maintaining a healthy cholesterol level helps to prevent heart disease. A person with high LDL cholesterol can use a combination of diet and habit changes to lower their LDL cholesterol to a healthy level over time.

The body needs some cholesterol to function normally. However, too much cholesterol – especially low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes.

People concerned about their cholesterol may wonder how to reduce cholesterol in 30 days. However, cholesterol reduction takes time, and most research looks at cholesterol changes over many months.

People hoping to naturally reduce their cholesterol can steadily lower their cholesterol with a number of healthy lifestyle changes.

This article looks at what cholesterol is, how it affects health, how long it takes to reduce cholesterol, normal and high cholesterol levels, and the best ways to lower cholesterol.

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The liver naturally produces cholesterol, which is a fatty substance that helps the body make hormones and digest fatty foods.

There is also cholesterol in animal-based foods, such as eggs and meat. The body does not need cholesterol from food, and can naturally manufacture the cholesterol it needs.

Cholesterol tests measure two types of cholesterol:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): This type of cholesterol is what many people consider the “bad” kind. High levels of LDL can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, clogged arteries, and other heart health issues.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL): This “good” cholesterol can help remove cholesterol and carry it back to the liver. Higher levels of HDL may lower a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease.

Total cholesterol is a measure of HDL plus LDL and also triglycerides.

If a person has low HDL cholesterol and high LDL cholesterol, their risk of heart disease is higher.

Cholesterol drops over time, not suddenly, after a few days of healthier living. There is no set period in which cholesterol is guaranteed to drop.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs usually produce a change in LDL within 6 to 8 weeks. It is possible for lifestyle changes to change cholesterol levels within weeks. However, it may take longer, usually about 3 months — sometimes more.

Some doctors recommend adding a cholesterol-lowering drug if a person has not lowered their LDL cholesterol after about 12 weeks of lifestyle changes.

For most people, healthy cholesterol levels are as follows:

  • Total cholesterol: less than 200 milligrams per deciliter
  • LDL “bad” cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL
  • HDL “good” cholesterol: higher than 60 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides: less than 150 mg/dL

According to an article in the journal Circulation, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend using statins to lower cholesterol in people with cholesterol higher outside of these levels.

However, they also recommend doctors consider a person’s cholesterol levels and overall risk of cardiovascular disease before prescribing a cholesterol-lowering medication.

The AHA recommends that people with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease get high-intensity statin therapy maximally tolerated statin therapy to lower LDL by at least 50%.

The AHA also recommends high-intensity statin therapy for individuals with severe primary hypercholesterolemia (LDL greater than OR equal to 190 mg/dL).

There are a number of habit changes a person can incorporate into their daily routines in order to gradually and consistently lower their LDL levels over time. Including:

Eat balanced diet

Many different foods contain cholesterol, and some foods such as eggs are high in cholesterol.

However, a number of studies have found that the cholesterol a person gets from food does not substantially increase blood cholesterol.

Instead, what matters is eating a balanced diet with a variety of nutrients.

A person can try the following:

  • Eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • Avoid trans fats, and limit foods high in saturated fat.
  • Limit foods with added sugars.
  • Eat a lower sodium diet. Many processed foods contain high levels of sodium, even if they do not taste salty.
  • Eat high fiber foods such as oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, and beans.

Because cholesterol intake does not directly correlate with cholesterol levels in most people, people do not necessarily need to avoid foods that contain cholesterol. Instead, most people should focus on eating a balanced diet that is low in trans fats and saturated fats.

For some people, however, cholesterol intake does bear an important relation to serum levels, and they should monitor their cholesterol intake from food accordingly.

Maintain a moderate weight

Maintaining or achieving a moderate weight that is within the BMI range recommended by doctors can help lower cholesterol, while also reducing other heart disease risks.

A person should focus on achieving and maintaining a moderate weight with a combination of healthy eating and lots of physical activity, as both of these can also lower cholesterol.

Become more active

Physical activity exercises the heart, reducing the risk of heart disease. It can also help the body more effectively remove cholesterol from the blood, steadily lowering bad cholesterol.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as walking, per week.

People who are not active can start slowly. Even a slight increase in physical activity can improve health, and may make it easier to work up to more exercise.

Make lifestyle changes

Quitting or cutting back on habits such as smoking and excessive drinking can help lower cholesterol, while improving overall health.

Ask about cholesterol medication

Cholesterol medications such as statins may be the fastest way to lower cholesterol for some people – usually within 6 to 8 weeks. This allows a person to quickly reduce their heart disease risk while cultivating a healthy lifestyle. During this period, a person can focus on lowering cholesterol over time with lifestyle and dietary changes.

Because high cholesterol is a risk factor for serious heart health issues, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recommend statins for many groups of people with high LDL cholesterol.

If LDL cholesterol does not drop enough with diet and lifestyle changes and statins, a person might need additional medications.

Lowering LDL cholesterol can reduce a person’s risk of heart disease. The heart-healthy habits that can lower cholesterol may also improve a person’s overall health by helping them maintain a healthy weight and improving blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes.

This means that even people with moderately high cholesterol may see health improvements with a cholesterol-friendly lifestyle.

Even when cholesterol dips, persisting with these healthy habits can improve long-term health.

Talk with a doctor about individual heart disease risk factors, and about which cholesterol management strategies are best for a person’s overall health.