High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is the beneficial type of cholesterol. People need a minimum amount of this type for good health. Non-HDL cholesterol includes low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is harmful at high levels.

Non-HDL cholesterol also includes other potentially harmful types of cholesterol, including very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol.

When non-HDL cholesterol is too high, it can increase the risk of heart disease and heart attack. It is possible to lower it naturally by making dietary changes and other lifestyle adjustments. However, some people may require medications.

Read on to learn how to lower non-HDL cholesterol through diet, supplements, exercise, lifestyle changes, and medication.

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The cholesterol in food is not a major contributor to LDL cholesterol in the blood. Saturated and trans fats may be more significant contributors.

A person who is trying to lower their cholesterol levels may benefit from:

  • Reducing saturated fat: Saturated fats should account for no more than 5–6% of a person’s daily calories. For a diet of 2,000 calories per day, this is equivalent to about 13 grams of saturated fat.
  • Choosing unsaturated fats: Unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, avocado oil, and oily fish, help reduce non-HDL cholesterol. Most fats in a person’s diet should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
  • Increasing fiber intake: Eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains adds fiber to the diet, which may help lower cholesterol levels.
  • Limiting sugar: Added sugars can be present in foods that people may assume are healthy, such as fruit juices, flavored yogurts, and granola. It is best to look for products that contain no added sugar.
  • Limiting processed foods: Processed foods often contain high amounts of salt or saturated fat, both of which affect cardiovascular health.

Some supplements may help lower bad cholesterols, but the evidence supporting them is not as strong as that for proven treatments, such as statins.

Plant sterols and stanols

Plant sterols and stanols (PSS) are naturally occurring substances in plants. A person can get them by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. However, some manufacturers sell PSS supplements, too.

A 2018 paper states that PSS supplements are effective and that they offer the most benefits when a person takes them twice daily with food.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are present in fermented foods and drinks. Companies also sell them as supplements.

Scientists first theorized that probiotics might lower cholesterol based on observations of the Masaai tribe, who consume fermented dairy and meat regularly but generally have low cholesterol levels.

Since then, a number of laboratory studies have suggested that certain species of bacteria may affect cholesterol levels. However, there are no large clinical trials to prove that this approach works in humans.

People may wish to incorporate probiotic foods into a heart-healthy diet.

CoQ10

Some data suggest that an antioxidant called CoQ10 may improve heart health by helping the heart contract more effectively.

Some research has found that people who take statins to lower cholesterol may also develop weakness in the heart and other muscles. This could be because statins block the body’s production of CoQ10.

Taking a CoQ10 supplement along with statins may, therefore, improve heart health, but the research on this point is not conclusive.

A 2018 study found that both low intensity and moderate intensity exercise may help decrease LDL cholesterol. As exercise also improves other aspects of cardiovascular health, it is a useful addition to treatment for high cholesterol.

People who can exercise should aim to do aerobic exercise — any form of physical activity that increases the heart rate — on a regular basis. Some options include:

  • brisk walking
  • running
  • swimming

The liver breaks alcohol down into triglycerides and cholesterol. This can cause triglyceride and cholesterol levels to rise over time, especially if a person drinks large quantities of alcohol.

Excessive alcohol consumption can also contribute to weight gain and high blood pressure. These are also risk factors for heart disease.

Smoking tobacco can also play a role in high cholesterol. Smoking makes LDL cholesterol more likely to cling to the walls of blood vessels and clog them up. It can also damage heart and lung health in other ways.

Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption can make a substantial difference to cholesterol levels and overall health.

Medications can help lower cholesterol in people who are unable to lower their levels via lifestyle and dietary changes. They can also be a good option for people with medical conditions that lead to dangerously high cholesterol levels.

In most cases, a doctor will prescribe a statin. Statins reduce cholesterol by blocking a liver enzyme that supports cholesterol production.

However, people with some medical conditions may benefit from other types of medication. For example, hypothyroidism may cause high cholesterol. Taking thyroid hormone may treat both the thyroid and cholesterol issues.

The time it takes to lower cholesterol depends on how high a person’s cholesterol is, what methods they use, and other factors.

Dietary changes, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, may lower cholesterol in as little as 4 weeks. The effects may further increase with time.

In one case report, a 33-year-old man made significant lifestyle changes, and his LDL cholesterol dropped by 52.8% over 6 weeks.

With medication, cholesterol levels should begin dropping quickly. They will stabilize after about 6 weeks, meaning that whatever level cholesterol reaches by this time is likely the level it will remain.

Learn more about how long it takes to lower cholesterol.

Non-HDL cholesterol includes several harmful types of cholesterol, such as LDL and VLDL. High levels of non-HDL cholesterol are a risk factor for heart disease, particularly when a person also has low levels of HDL, or “good,” cholesterol.

People who wish to lower their non-HDL cholesterol levels may be able to achieve this naturally with the right combination of diet, exercise, and other lifestyle modifications. If these interventions do not work, a person may need to take medication. A doctor can provide more information on the treatment options for lowering cholesterol.