Herbs and Supplements That Lower Cholesterol

People with high cholesterol levels, called hyperlipidemia, are at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Their LDL cholesterol levels (so-called “bad” cholesterol) are considered a significant risk factor.

Inflammation of blood vessel linings is thought to be the result of LDL cholesterol. This causes atherosclerosis, or hardening of arteries.  The focus of treatment and lifestyle changes has traditionally been lowering LDL cholesterol levels while raising HDL cholesterol levels (“good” cholesterol).

There is little scientific evidence that supplements or alternative medicines can safely treat high cholesterol, but some may prove useful in combination with other therapies. Here are some supplements to consider.

Niacin (Vitamin B3)

Vitamin B3, also called niacin, lowers LDL and triglyceride cholesterol levels as well as raising HDL cholesterol levels. Additionally, niacin may also significantly reduce levels of lipoprotein A, another risk factor for atherosclerosis.

As a dietary supplement and as a prescription drug, niacin is available in both forms. The American Heart Association recommends that only the prescription form of the drug be used to lower cholesterol. Niacin should not be used to lower cholesterol without the supervision of a qualified health professional due to its side effects.

In addition, Niacin can worsen peptic ulcers or trigger liver inflammation and high blood sugar. Niacin can also increase blood pressure medication effects or cause nausea, indigestion, gas, diarrhea, or gout.

Niacin is most commonly associated with skin flushing or hot flashes, which are caused by the widening of blood vessels. This occurs initially when a person starts taking niacin, but it may be lessened by taking it with meals.

Although high doses of niacin have shown promise when taken with drugs to lower cholesterol (called statins), studies have shown no clinical benefit and have suggested adverse effects.

Soluble Fiber

Fiber reduces dietary cholesterol absorption in the intestines by binding with cholesterol so that it is excreted. Fiber is found as a dietary supplement, such as psyllium powder, as well as in foods such as:

  • Oats, barley, rye
  • Legumes (peas, beans)
  • Some fruits such as apples, prunes, and berries
  • Some vegetables, such as carrots, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, yams

Taking between 5 and 10 grams of soluble fiber a day can lower LDL cholesterol by about 5%. The FDA allows heart-healthy labeling on soluble fiber products. Acacia fiber, glucomannan, shirataki noodles, nopal, and flaxseeds are other foods and supplements high in soluble fiber.

Plant Sterols and Stanols

Sterols and stanols (such as beta-sitosterol and sitostanol) found naturally in some plants are used in dietary supplements, margarine, juice, and dressings.

According to research, phytostanols and sterols may help lower cholesterol since they are structurally similar to cholesterol and may help prevent cholesterol from being absorbed through the intestines.

Researchers have found that stanols/sterols seem to enhance the effects of other methods to lower cholesterol. In studies, people taking statin drugs to reduce cholesterol had an additional improvement in cholesterol levels after taking stanols/sterols.

Artichoke Leaf

There is some evidence that artichoke leaf extract (Cynara scolymnus) may help lower cholesterol. Artichoke leaf extract may do this by limiting the synthesis of cholesterol in the body.

Additionally, artichokes contain a chemical compound called cynarine, which may stimulate liver bile production and speed up gallbladder bile flow, both of which may result in a greater excretion of cholesterol.

Three studies were analyzed for the effect of artichoke extract on total cholesterol in a meta-analysis. Of the three, two showed a possible reduction.

As of 2016, the Cochrane Review had stopped updating its analysis of this research because adverse events were mild, transient, and infrequent. The study recommended conducting larger clinical trials over longer periods.

Other Supplements

Several other supplements have been suggested for lowering cholesterol, but there are no rigorous studies supporting the benefits of these supplements. Red yeast rice for example contains lovastatin, a prescribed medication containing naturally-occurring lovastatin.

Garlic is no longer effective in lowering cholesterol. Other supplements and foods you might see marketed include policosanol, coenzyme Q10, green tea, and soy.

Modify Your Risk Factors

There are a number of factors associated with high cholesterol, including blood sugar, physical activity, and other risk factors. While some cannot be changed, others can:

  • Previous heart attack
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Low HDL cholesterol
  • Family history of early heart disease
  • Age over 45 in men and greater than 55 in women
  • 10-year risk of a heart attack greater than 20%

In addition to not smoking (or quitting if you smoke), you can also treat your high blood pressure and diabetes to keep them under control.

Using Alternative Medicine

Follow these tips before you decide to use alternative medicine for high cholesterol:

  • Consult your doctor before starting any natural method to lower cholesterol.
  • Let your doctor know about your supplement regimen.
  • Do not stop using your cholesterol-lowering medications without consulting your doctor.
  • Alternative medicines have not been tested for safety and it is unclear whether supplements are safe for pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or taking medications.

Read Previous

Best Herbs and Supplements for Diabetics in 2021

Read Next

The Health Benefits of Tumeric

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *