How to Lower Cholesterol

Lowering cholesterol is essential for maintaining good health and reducing the risk of heart disease. High cholesterol can lead to the buildup of plaque in your arteries, which can obstruct blood flow and increase the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes.

Simple lifestyle changes can significantly lower cholesterol levels and improve cardiovascular health. By making adjustments, you can work towards controlling high cholesterol and protecting your heart.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your blood. There are two main types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

LDL Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol is often called “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to fatty deposits in your blood vessels. These deposits can obstruct blood flow, leading to heart attacks or strokes.

It’s essential to keep your LDL cholesterol levels low to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

HDL Cholesterol

In contrast, HDL cholesterol is known as the “good” cholesterol. It helps remove LDL cholesterol from your blood and carries it back to the liver, where it’s broken down and removed from the body.

A high level of HDL cholesterol can reduce the risk of heart disease.


Aside from LDL and HDL cholesterol, triglycerides are another type of fat in your blood.

High triglyceride levels combined with high LDL or low HDL cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.

Regularly monitoring your blood cholesterol levels is vital in maintaining your overall health. By following a healthy diet and exercising regularly, you can lower your LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels while increasing your HDL cholesterol levels.

Monitoring Cholesterol Levels

Keeping track of your cholesterol levels is essential to maintaining good health. Here are the different tests to do just that. Remember that fasting 9-10 hours before these tests is necessary for accurate results.

Regular Blood Tests

You can effectively track your cholesterol levels through regular blood tests – specifically, a test called a lipid panel. It measures total cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein), HDL (high-density lipoprotein), and triglycerides.

Higher levels of total cholesterol and LDL are risk factors for heart disease, while higher levels of HDL are protective.

Doctors typically recommend these tests every four to six years for adults, but it is advised to increase in frequency if you’re at higher risk for heart diseases.

Home Test Kits

If you prefer to check your cholesterol levels at home, you can use a home cholesterol test kit available at pharmacies or online. These kits usually require a small blood sample, often obtained by pricking your finger.

Home testing can be helpful and practical as a checkpoint between regular doctor visits, but always remember to discuss the results with your doctor for proper interpretation and advice.

Causes of High Cholesterol

Understanding what causes high cholesterol is an essential step toward managing it effectively. High cholesterol levels can stem from various factors, including your diet, physical activity level, and genetics.

In this section, we’ll delve deeper into these causes, helping you better comprehend why you might be dealing with high cholesterol and how to steer your health back on track.

Unhealthy Food Choices

Consuming a diet rich in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol can elevate your cholesterol levels. These unhealthy fats are usually found in red meat, full-fat dairy products, and fried or processed foods.

It’s crucial that you make mindful choices about what you’re putting into your body. Opting for healthier alternatives and adjusting the amount of these food sources lowers your cholesterol levels significantly.

Obesity and Unmanaged Weight

Carrying excess weight can significantly increase your cholesterol levels. Obesity, primarily when the excess weight is concentrated around your waist, has been observed with an increase in the LDL (bad) cholesterol level and a decrease in the HDL (good) cholesterol level.

A body mass index (BMI) above 30 and a waist circumference of more than 40 inches in men or 35 inches in women are typically associated with high cholesterol.

Lack of Physical Activity

A sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to high cholesterol. Sedentary lifestyles often lead to imbalances in cholesterol levels due to the choices of meals, cooking methods that prefer unhealthy food preparation, and poor lifestyle choices.

Regular physical activity can raise your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – the “good” cholesterol – while reducing the levels of the “bad” cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

Inherited Genes and Family History

Sometimes, high cholesterol is less about your lifestyle choices and more about your genetics. Familial hypercholesterolemia is a genetic disorder characterized by high LDL cholesterol levels.

If you have this condition, it might be more challenging to lower your cholesterol levels through diet and exercise alone, and medication might be necessary. Always consider your family’s health history and discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider.


Smoking can significantly harm your cholesterol levels. It lowers your body’s levels of HDL, the “good” cholesterol, and elevates the level of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol.

Additionally, chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the walls of your blood vessels, making them more susceptible to fat deposits and therefore higher cholesterol levels.

Excessive Alcohol Intake

While moderate alcohol intake has been associated with a slight increase in HDL cholesterol, excessive alcohol use can lead to serious health problems, including high cholesterol.

High levels of alcohol intake can increase the level of triglycerides, potentially leading to high blood pressure and heart failure.

Risks of Having High Cholesterol

High cholesterol levels can pose a serious risk to your health if left unchecked. It’s essential to understand the potential consequences and to grasp the importance of maintaining suitable cholesterol levels.

Peripheral Artery Disease

High cholesterol can cause peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition where the blood supply to the limbs, particularly the legs, is restricted. This is due to the narrowing or blockage of the peripheral arteries from plaque buildup, primarily caused by high cholesterol.

PAD can lead to leg pain when walking and soreness in your feet or toes, even when resting.

Type 2 Diabetes

Elevated levels of cholesterol can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. While the relationship between high cholesterol and diabetes is complex and often interrelated, the association is clear.

High cholesterol can lead to insulin resistance and inflammation, stepping stones in the development of diabetes. Maintaining a healthy cholesterol level can therefore also aid in preventing type 2 diabetes.

Heart Diseases

High cholesterol can lead to the buildup of plaque on the walls of your arteries, known as atherosclerosis. 

This can reduce the flow of blood to your heart, resulting in angina, a condition characterized by chest pain or discomfort. In severe cases, it can even lead to a heart attack.


Accumulation of cholesterol plaques in the arteries that supply blood to your brain can also lead to a stroke. A stroke occurs when there’s a reduction or blockage in blood flow to the brain. High LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, can increase the risk of stroke due to plaque buildup. 

Managing your cholesterol levels therefore plays a role in reducing the risk of stroke.

Lifestyle Changes to Lower Cholesterol

Living with high cholesterol doesn’t need to be a permanent state, and you have more control than you might think. By making a few smart lifestyle changes, you can improve your cholesterol level and protect your heart.

Eating Healthily

Revamping your diet can play a significant role in lowering your cholesterol levels.

Opt for heart-healthy foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and walnuts, and increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Limit foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products. Reducing your intake of trans fats, often found in fried foods and commercial baked goods, can also help.

Regular Physical Activity

Engage in regular physical activity as it can increase “good” HDL cholesterol and reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol.

Try to aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. It doesn’t have to be strenuous – even light activities like walking, doing household chores, dancing, or cycling can make a significant difference, provided they are done regularly.

Working Toward a Healthy Weight

Shedding excess weight is also a critical step in lowering cholesterol levels. Even a modest weight loss can have a sizable impact on cholesterol.

Consider making long-term changes to your eating and exercise habits, not just to lose weight but to maintain a healthy weight.

Stress Management

Chronic stress can indirectly influence your cholesterol levels by affecting your habits. For instance, when stressed, you’re more likely to eat unhealthy food, skip exercise, and resort to smoking or drinking.

Managing stress through methods like meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga can help maintain healthy lifestyle habits, thus improving your cholesterol levels.

Limit Alcohol Intake

While moderate alcohol consumption may potentially increase “good” HDL cholesterol, it’s essential to remember that too much alcohol can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke.

If you drink, do so moderately. Men should limit their intake to two drinks per day, and women to one drink.

Avoid Smoking

Smoke from cigarettes is linked to higher “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower “good” HDL cholesterol, in addition to causing blood vessel damage. This can lead to an accumulation of cholesterol in your artery walls and increase your risk of atherosclerosis.

Quitting smoking can improve your HDL cholesterol level and significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. 

Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke too, as it can also impact your cholesterol levels.

Medications to Lower Cholesterol

Various medications can be prescribed to manage your cholesterol levels. However, it is important to talk about your condition with your healthcare provider.

Slowing Down Cholesterol Production

Statins are the most commonly prescribed group of medications for high cholesterol. They reduce your “bad” LDL cholesterol level by slowing down the production of cholesterol in your liver.

Statins may also help your body reabsorb cholesterol from built-up deposits in your artery walls.

Bile-Acid Production

Your liver uses cholesterol to make bile, a substance needed for digestion.

Bile-acid-binding resins work by binding to bile from your liver, forcing your liver to use more cholesterol to create more bile, which in turn lowers your cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol Absorption Blockers

Cholesterol absorption inhibitors lower your cholesterol by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in your small intestine.

This helps decrease the amount of cholesterol that may build up in your arteries.

Injectables for Cholesterol Control

When other cholesterol medications aren’t enough, your doctor might suggest injections of a newer class of drugs.

These medications can help the liver absorb more LDL cholesterol, which lowers the amount of cholesterol in your blood.

Medical Procedures to Lower Cholesterol

When lifestyle medications or medications are unsuccessful, there are several medical procedures that can help lower cholesterol. Here are some of the most effective treatments.

LDL Removal and Blood Transfusion

If you have a genetically caused cholesterol condition or are at high risk of heart disease, a procedure called LDL apheresis might be considered.

This is a method where your blood is passed through a machine that removes LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from the blood and then returns the rest of the blood back into your body. This procedure is done every two weeks, similar to dialysis.

Surgery to Control Obesity

If your high cholesterol is linked to obesity, bariatric surgery could be recommended. Also known as weight loss surgery, bariatric procedures, such as gastric bypass, reduce the size of your stomach, restricting your food intake.

Weight loss following this surgery can drastically lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health.

Heart Transplant

In very severe cases when high cholesterol has led to substantial heart disease that can’t be treated effectively with medication, surgery, or lifestyle changes, a heart transplant may be considered. This involves replacing the damaged heart with a healthy one from a donor.

Each of these treatment options carries its pros and cons and varies in its approach. It’s crucial that you discuss your history and current health status with your healthcare provider to determine the most beneficial way forward for managing cholesterol levels.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol?

Adopting a healthier diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting trans and saturated fats is one effective way to lower your cholesterol.

Regular physical activity, particularly for 30 minutes on most days of the week, can also help.

Furthermore, quitting smoking, limiting your alcohol intake, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy weight are essential elements of a lifestyle that promotes lower cholesterol levels.

Are there any medications to lower cholesterol?

Yes, several medications can be prescribed to help lower cholesterol. These include statins, which lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels by slowing down cholesterol production in the liver.

Other drugs include bile-acid-binding resins, cholesterol absorption inhibitors, and injectable medications. It’s essential to consult your healthcare provider to decide the best course of treatment for you.

How does high cholesterol affect my health?

High cholesterol contributes to the buildup of plaque in your arteries, leading to atherosclerosis or the hardening of your arteries.

This presents a serious risk to your health as it not only leads to heart disease but also other conditions such as peripheral artery disease and type 2 diabetes. High cholesterol can also increase your risk of suffering a stroke.

Are there medical procedures to lower cholesterol?

Yes, some medical procedures can help lower cholesterol in cases where lifestyle changes and medication are not sufficient.

LDL apheresis, a process in which LDL cholesterol is removed from your blood, can be an option for those with genetically caused high cholesterol or those at high risk of heart disease.

Bariatric surgery is another procedure that can aid those whose high cholesterol is linked with obesity. In severe cases, a heart transplant may be considered.

How does a poor diet contribute to high cholesterol?

A diet rich in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol found in foods such as red meat, full-fat dairy products, and fried or processed foods can elevate your cholesterol levels.

Making healthier choices by consuming lean meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products can significantly lower your cholesterol levels.