How Can I Reduce My LDL Cholesterol?
My LDL cholesterol level is high. My doctor prescribed a statin, which did not quite agree with me. I have stopped taking it. How can I reduce my LDL level? Partha Santanam, Zurich, Switzerland
Madelyn L. Wheeler, MS, RDN, FADA, FAND, CD, responds
Most people with diabetes are at an increased risk for heart disease, and the American Diabetes Association recommends both lifestyle modification and moderate- to high-dose statin therapy for adults to reduce the risk.
What to Know
Your health care provider can determine your risk for heart disease by measuring your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Reducing high LDL levels (above 100 mg/dl) can help lower the risk—as can altering your lifestyle. That includes changing your food habits, exercising more, losing weight (if needed), quitting smoking, and reducing stress.
Find Out More
First, if you change or discontinue prescribed medications, please tell your health care provider and discuss alternatives, including trying different types of statins to find one without side effects for you. From there, focus on lifestyle changes.
Consider your intake of saturated fats—found mainly in animal products, such as high-fat dairy (butter and cheese) and fatty meats. Then replace them with healthy alternatives: low-fat dairy; vegetable oil; trans fat–free margarine; and lean poultry, meat, and fish.
Fish brings the added bonus of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, so try to eat it at least twice a week. Man-made trans fats—often found in bakery products, processed foods, and fried foods—raise cholesterol, so avoid foods with trans fat on the nutrition label or with partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list.
Overall, cook fewer meat-based meals and more plant-based dishes, especially those with legumes, such as beans or lentils. That will not only reduce saturated fat but will also increase soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol. You can also increase the amount of fiber in your diet by replacing refined carbs—such as white bread and pasta—with whole wheat or whole grains. (Oats, in particular, are a great choice.) Eating five cups of fruits and vegetables per day will increase your fiber intake and provide needed vitamins and minerals.
Finally, healthy changes in your cholesterol don’t happen overnight. Give yourself four to six weeks.
Lifestyle changes and statin use can reduce your LDL cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease.