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Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is essential for the body to perform many functions, such as the production of vitamin D and certain hormones. It also acts as a key component of the cell membrane. The majority of cholesterol is produced by the liver, and the body gets the rest from the diet.
Cholesterol is transported through the body by substances called lipoproteins. The two key types are:
HDL (high-density lipoprotein): Commonly referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol
LDL (low-density lipoprotein): Often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol
HDL is responsible for transporting cholesterol back to the liver, where it can be removed from the body.
LDL is responsible for transporting cholesterol to cells. It can sometimes accumulate in the walls of your blood vessels, leading to narrowing and stiffness of your arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. This increases your risk of developing high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Total cholesterol levels of under 200 mg/dL are normal for healthy adults. Non-HDL (the sum of all the non-HDL lipoproteins such as LDL, VLDL (very low-density protein), intermediate-density lipoproteins (IDL), and chylomicrons) should be under 130 mg/dL. HDL should be 40 mg/dL or higher for men, and 50 mg/dL or higher for women, while LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL.
If you want to test your cholesterol levels, you can get a lipoprotein panel test. Your doctor will take a blood sample to measure your levels of total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, non-HDL, and triglyceride (another fat that impacts your risk of developing the cardiovascular disease).
If your cholesterol levels are too high, your doctor might recommend changes to your diet and encourage exercise. Further changes could involve:
Mitigating stressors in your life
Taking medication if lifestyle changes aren’t sufficient
Green tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant and is an unoxidized form of tea.
It contains catechins which are a particular type of flavonoid. Flavonoids are found in plants and have a wide variety of benefits, being:
Of all the teas, green tea (and green tea extract) has the highest levels of catechins. Catechins are metabolites also found in cacao and berries that are strong antioxidants.
Studies have shown that green tea extract is highly effective at reducing cholesterol levels in humans through catechins. In particular, high consumption of green tea lowered total cholesterol and lowered LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol, especially in those with high cholesterol levels. Green tea has also been found to prevent atherosclerosis in mice.
How green tea lowers cholesterol is not yet fully understood. It is thought that tea decreases intestinal absorption of cholesterol and increases its excretion.
Black tea is also made from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. The leaves are withered to release moisture, rolled, fully crushed to enhance oxidation, and finally dried.
It is not fully clear if black tea impacts blood cholesterol levels. One study reported that black tea lowers total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in those with a mild increase in cholesterol levels, although the study is relatively old (2003), with a very small sample, and with few limitations.
Another study¹ including participants with mild hypercholesterolemia reported no significant alteration of the patient's lipid profile after consuming five cups per day for four weeks. On the other hand, a study² that enriched green tea with one of the main chemicals in black tea (theaflavin) has reported a significant lowering of total cholesterol and LDL and a slight increase in HDL.
A 2015 systematic review and analysis³ of several well-designed trials have concluded that consumption of black tea can significantly lower serum concentrations of LDL cholesterol, especially in those with higher cardiovascular risk. However, it showed a significant impact on total cholesterol levels or HDL.
Oolong tea is a traditional Chinese tea. It comes from the same plant as green tea and black tea but is processed differently.
The leaves are withered under the sun and oxidized before curling. This process gives oolong tea its distinct flavor.
Drinking oolong tea for six weeks has been found to lower total cholesterol.⁴ It is thought that oolong tea achieves this by inhibiting pancreatic lipase – the enzyme responsible for digesting different forms of fats and cholesterol esters to be converted into monoglycerides and free fatty acids, which, in turn, get transformed into triglycerides.
This means that oolong tea may prevent the digestion and metabolism of fats by the body, which consequently decreases the level of cholesterol in the blood serum.
Oat milk: This plant-based milk is free of cholesterol.
Replace full-fat milk with soy milk: As soy milk is low in saturated fat compared to cow’s milk, you can start making it a regular addition to your morning coffee. Low and moderate-fat plant sterol-enriched (a naturally occurring compound in plants similar to cholesterol) soy milk has also been found to reduce total cholesterol and LDL blood levels by reducing intestinal cholesterol absorption.
Hot cocoa: Like tea, dark chocolate and cocoa contain flavonoids. Look for less processed cocoa drinks or make your own brew from 100% cocoa. Cocoa lowers cholesterol by inhibiting the synthesis of cholesterol.
Tomato juice: Lycopene, β-carotene, and γ-carotene are compounds found in tomato juice that has been shown to have significant cholesterol-lowering effects. Lycopene is responsible for giving tomatoes their distinctive red color but also lowers cholesterol production while increasing the uptake and degradation of LDL. Carotenes were found to have similar effects.
Any drinks containing high-fat milk or added cream are to be avoided. It’s also recommended to drink alcohol in moderation, as heavy alcohol consumption increases triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.
Soft drinks can worsen cholesterol levels due to their high sugar content. Other high-fat, sugary drinks like milkshakes will also increase your cholesterol levels.
Green tea, black tea, and oolong tea have all been found to be beneficial in lowering cholesterol levels. All of these teas are thought to reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine.
If your cholesterol levels are high, or you want to take a preventative measure, start adding a few cups of tea to your daily routine, and your body will thank you!
Low and moderate-fat plant sterol fortified soymilk in modulation of plasma lipids and cholesterol kinetics in subjects with normal to high cholesterol concentrations: Report on two randomized crossover studies (2009)