David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.
Lower Your LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides
High blood LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels are the main risk factors associated with heart disease, which is still the most common cause of death in Britain and the United States. But you don’t need to resort to dangerous drugs to lower your levels, as some simple diet and lifestyle changes can do the job even more effectively. So in this article I’ll explain how you can lower your LDL cholesterol and triglycerides without drugs, and so reduce your risk of heart disease dramatically.
What Are LDL, HDL and Triglycerides?
LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol is the "bad" cholesterol that is associated with atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Triglycerides are derived from excess calories that are not used up for energy, particularly those from sugar and refined carbohydrates; and in fact having high triglycerides is an even greater risk factor for heart disease than high LDL cholesterol is.
HDL (high density lipoprotein) is the "good" cholesterol that transports excess LDL cholesterol to the liver, where it is excreted in the bile. So ideally you want to keep your LDL and triglycerides fairly low, and your HDL high.
Actually, there are two main types of LDL cholesterol too. There is the small dense LDL, which is the one that does the damage, and there is also the large fluffy LDL, which is fairly benign. So if you have a relatively low LDL level, and most of what you have is the large fluffy type, you will have a particularly low risk of heart disease.
Most adults in the western world have raised LDL and triglycerides, and most people who die from a heart attack have particularly raised levels. And chances are, if you need to lower one, you will need to lower the other as well. Fortunately, however, what works for one will usually work for the other – with just a few minor differences.
The orthodox treatment for raised LDL and triglycerides is to take cholesterol lowering drugs such as statins. And although these are effective at lowering levels of both, they can also have some very unpleasant side effects, which may include severe liver damage.
So to lower your LDL cholesterol and triglycerides without drugs, simply do the following:
Eat a Sensible Diet
It's important to minimize your consumption of sugary foods and refined carbohydrates, as these tend to be quickly converted into triglycerides for storage as fat on your body.
You should also completely avoid trans fats, as these raise LDL levels, whilst lowering HDL. They also weaken cell membranes and cause damage to your body in other ways too. Many margarine's and most processed foods contain trans fats, and whenever you see the words "shortening", "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" or "hydrogenated vegetable oil" on a food label, you know you are getting trans fats in that product.
Saturated fats, however, have got too much of a bad reputation, and can in fact be healthy and beneficial in moderate amounts. But they do tend to increase cholesterol levels, so you don’t want to be consuming too much of them if your levels are already high.
So eat a healthy balanced diet consisting of lean protein (meat, fish and eggs), complex carbohydrates (whole grain products, sweet potatoes, quinoa etc.), plenty of fruit and vegetables and some good fats from such foods as oily fish, nuts, avocados and extra virgin olive oil.
Exercise helps to lower LDL and triglycerides, and it also raises HDL.
Aerobic exercise gives a small but useful benefit. But higher intensity anaerobic exercise works much better. For best results, try to get about 30 minutes of exercise five days per week, with at least two of these sessions being some form of high intensity training (such as high intensity interval training).
Most overweight people have raised LDL and triglycerides, and reducing your weight can make a big difference to your levels of both.
Adopting the measures mentioned above will help with weight loss of course, but for effective and sustained long term weight reduction you need to ensure you eat at a calorie deficit long enough to achieve your ideal weight - and then maintain it.
Take Some Proven Supplements
There are a number of supplements that are proven to help lower blood lipid levels. These include the following:
Plant sterols, found in fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains, help to keep cholesterol levels under control, but most people don’t get anywhere near enough of them in their diet to have any real effect. Therefore, supplementing with 300mg of beta sitosterol per day can help to lower LDL, as well as having a positive effect on liver function. If your problem is more serious, take 600mg per day for 6 - 12 months, and then reduce it to 300mg.
A good multivitamin is also highly recommended, and minerals in particular are very important, as are beta carotene, niacin, vitamin C and vitamin E.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
These help to lower triglycerides, as well as increasing HDL. They also reduce vascular inflammation, which is a trigger for atherosclerosis.
Red Yeast Rice Extract
This contains a substance called monacolin K, which is known to inhibit the synthesis of cholesterol in the body.
This helps to prevent the oxidation of LDL, as well as helping to lower blood pressure.
Don't Smoke, and Only Use Alcohol in Moderation
Smoking is highly inflammatory and causes inflammation of the blood vessels. It also raises LDL and triglycerides and lowers HDL.
Alcohol is fine in moderation, as it can raise HDL and lower LDL slightly, but it does increase triglycerides, so should not be used in excess.
So now you know how to lower your LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels without resorting to dangerous drugs. And although it is true that some people have high levels due to genetic factors, even in these cases they can be substantially reduced with the right diet and lifestyle. But for everyone else, if you follow the recommendations outlined here you should soon have your levels back down to normal again.