High cholesterol is a common health condition affecting millions of people globally. While lifestyle changes like eating healthy and exercising more remain the first line of defense, many wonder if taking dietary supplements also help lower high cholesterol.
Before diving into specific supplements, it helps to understand what cholesterol is and why high levels cause problems. In every cell of your body, cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance. Foods that naturally contain cholesterol, mainly animal-based foods, and the liver produce it as well. At normal levels, cholesterol performs important functions like building healthy cells and producing essential hormones and vitamin D. However, when cholesterol circulates at persistently high concentrations in the blood, it accumulates on artery walls forming plaque deposits. Over time this hardening and narrowing of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, raises risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Dietary approaches to lowering high cholesterol
For many people, changing their diet is the first and most effective way to combat high cholesterol. Research shows that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated healthy fats help lower LDL “bad” cholesterol. Sources of healthy fats include fatty fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, and oils like olive and canola. Soluble fiber from oatmeal, beans, apples, and Brussels sprouts also reduce cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. Incorporating more exercise, losing excess weight, reducing sugar, and minimizing processed foods are other lifestyle measures that support healthy cholesterol regulation. For those needing extra help beyond diet, certain supplements provide additional cholesterol-lowering benefits.
Supplements for Lowering High Cholesterol
Some of the most widely used and studied dietary supplements marketed to help lower unhealthy cholesterol levels. It’s important to note that while many show early promise in research, high-quality evidence proving efficacy remains limited for some. For the best supplements to lower cholesterol, it’s wise to first discuss with your doctor to ensure appropriateness for your health status and to monitor effects on cholesterol over time.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are a type of healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids praised for their heart-protecting abilities. Common sources are fatty fish like salmon and sardines. For vegetarians or those desiring convenience, omega-3 supplements provide EPA and DHA fatty acids typically derived from fish, krill or algal oils. Multiple studies demonstrate that daily omega-3 supplementation ranging from 0.8 grams to 4 grams helps lower elevated triglycerides by around 10-30%, with greatest effects seen in those with high triglycerides (over 200 mg/dL). Evidence also shows omega-3s produce a modest 3-5% reduction in LDL “bad” cholesterol.
Soluble fiber supplements
As mentioned earlier, getting more soluble fiber from whole food sources reduce cholesterol absorption from the diet. For those needing concentrated amounts, taking supplemental forms like psyllium, glucomannan or oat beta-glucan further lower total and LDL “bad” cholesterol based on clinical trials. Typical doses used in studies showing cholesterol-lowering effects range from 3-10 grams per day. Just be sure to ramp up slowly as fiber supplements cause abdominal discomfort. Also drink plenty of water to help them work safely and effectively.