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Cholesterol is a compound in your body that is essential for many bodily functions, such as vitamin D synthesis, hormone production, and maintaining cell walls. If your cholesterol gets too high, it can cause health issues.
Cholesterol is carried through the body by low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL helps to transport cholesterol from the liver through the bloodstream to the body, while HDL carries cholesterol from the body to the liver — where it is removed. This is why HDL is often referred to as “good” cholesterol.
LDL cholesterol can accumulate on your arteries’ walls, making them stiff and narrower. The formation of these plaques is called atherosclerosis. If your arteries are too narrow, blood flow to your organs, especially your heart, can be slowed, and they won’t receive the oxygen they need to function properly.
This increases the risk of blood clots and can cause heart attacks, strokes, and organ failure.
If your cholesterol is too high, you should try to lower it. Having high cholesterol can cause a range of health issues. By reducing your total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, you could prevent the buildup of these plaques inside your vessels and potentially reverse some of the damage they caused.
This can decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke. Lowering your cholesterol may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The cause of high cholesterol is primarily due to dietary intake. Cholesterol from foods has been found¹ to have minimal effect on blood cholesterol. Alternatively, saturated and trans fats significantly contribute to increased blood cholesterol levels.
If you try to treat high cholesterol through a diet, you will find most diets to be low in these fats. These fats are most common in red meats, whole dairy products, oils, commercial baked goods, and fast foods.
Dietary fiber is a form of carbohydrate found in plant-based foods. There are two kinds of fiber — soluble and insoluble. Both of these are a great addition to your diet. Soluble fiber is the kind of fiber that is going to help you lower your cholesterol.
Soluble fiber turns into a thick gel in your intestines and slows your digestion, which can stop your blood sugars from spiking. Soluble fiber also traps the fat in your food, meaning your body cannot absorb as much fat, reducing cholesterol. You can find soluble fiber in beans, lentils, oatmeals, and most fruits.
Insoluble fiber is what keeps your bowel movements nice and healthy. It is found in whole grains, lentils, beans, and most veggies.
Both kinds of fiber will keep you fuller for longer. 5-10 grams of fiber per day decreases your bad cholesterol levels.
Studies² report that eating more fruits and veggies lowers your levels of bad cholesterol. Fruits and veggies are high in fiber and do not contain saturated fats, making them a great option to add to meals if you are trying to lower your cholesterol. One that is great to add to your diet is avocado.
As well as containing fiber and being low in saturated fats, avocados also contain monounsaturated fatty acids. These are a great source of healthy fats and were found³ to significantly lower LDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. Other healthy unsaturated fatty acids include olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
Fatty fish are low in saturated and trans fats and high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are great at reducing your triglyceride levels and lowering your blood pressure and risk of blood clots.
Omega-3s will not affect your LDL levels, but because of their other benefits, they are recommended to include in your diet. The American Heart Association recommends you have two servings of fish per week.
Not frying the fish will avoid adding unhealthy fats. Fish with the highest levels of Omega-3 are:
You can also get Omega-3 from plant sources such as flaxseed and walnuts.
A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates lowers your levels of good cholesterol and increases your levels of bad cholesterol. Sugar also stops a specific enzyme from breaking down triglycerides.
High levels of salt in your diet can cause high blood pressure. High blood pressure can cause damage to the walls of your arteries, making it easier for cholesterol to stick and form atherosclerotic plaques. Studies⁴ did not report a direct link between salt intake and cholesterol levels.
This recipe is healthy, simple, and quick to make. Oats and pumpkin are great sources of fiber in the morning, and there is only 1 gram of saturated fat per serving. They are also gluten-free. To make them even more cholesterol-friendly, skip the maple syrup and replace them with “sugar-free” syrup alternatives or Splenda. Top them with some fruit to add even more fiber, and you’ll be starting your day off great!
For a more savory option, sweet potato breakfast bowls from Grateful Grazer are awesome. While the original recipe includes avocados as a great source of healthy fats and a list of veggies, you are free to customize this meal to your heart's content — so it’s great for using up your leftover produce. To make this recipe even more cholesterol-friendly, replace the scrambled eggs with some scrambled tofu. The original recipe also has almost your entire daily recommended fiber.
When you’re craving something simple to whip up yet filling, try out this easy tofu scramble. Extra firm tofu crumbles well, resulting in a texture similar to scrambled eggs but without the added cholesterol. Pair it with richly spiced cumin, garlic powder, and turmeric, and you’ve got a breakfast worth waiting for.
Did you know that oatmeal can also come in a savory version? This hearty and delicious savory oatmeal is gluten-free, vegetarian, and packed with healthy veggies for an antioxidant boost. To make this recipe vegan and even more cholesterol-friendly, replace the eggs with beans, chickpeas, or other legumes.
For those mornings you need to rush out of the house, try out this delicious vitality smoothie. It’s free from dairy, gluten, and refined sugars, but it’s still as hearty and creamy as your typical smoothie. With a hint of sweetness from the bananas and spice from the cinnamon and nutmeg, you’ll be making this smoothie time and time again.
There are other ways to lower your cholesterol levels aside from diet. When deciding on a method to help you lower your cholesterol levels, you should always talk to your physician to help work out what is best for you and your condition.
Medication is a common treatment for high cholesterol. These are prescription-only, and there is a long list of cholesterol-lowering medications. The most commonly prescribed class of these medications is statins.
Statins work by blocking a substance your body needs to make cholesterol. Some commonly prescribed statins are atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol XL), and lovastatin (Altoprev).
Alongside diet, increased exercise levels and maintaining a moderate weight have been shown to help keep cholesterol levels down. Routine aerobic exercises, like cycling and jogging, appear to be beneficial in lowering LDL levels.
You should have your cholesterol checked every 4-6 years once you are over 20. To do this, you should see your healthcare provider.
You can purchase at-home cholesterol tests — however, these should not be used as a diagnostic tool. If you are concerned about any results, you should see your doctor.
There are no symptoms of high cholesterol, so the only way to find out if you have it is to do a blood test.
Your diet can influence your cholesterol levels enormously. Properly managing and maintaining your diet can prevent your cholesterol from increasing any further.
Meals high in whole foods, fruits, veggies, and seafood are great at decreasing bad cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol. If you are concerned about your cholesterol levels, you should see a doctor. There is no way to tell if you have high cholesterol until it is too late.
Physiology, cholesterol (2022)
Fiber-full eating for better health and lower cholesterol | Harvard Health Publishing
Why a sweet tooth spells trouble for your heart | Cleveland Clinic
Salt | Heart UK
Healthy pumpkin pancakes | Two Peas and Their Pod
Sweet potato breakfast bowl | Grateful Grazer
Easy tofu scramble | A Couple Cooks
Savory oatmeal | A Couple Cooks
Vitality smoothie | Live Love Nourish
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