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Ways to Lower Your LDL Cholesterol

Reducing Your "Bad" Cholesterol Can Also Help to Reduce Heart Disease Risk

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Updated May 16, 2014

Having high levels of (LDL) cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol, is an important risk factor for heart disease. The good news is that, unlike other risk factors, you may be able to prevent high LDL levels or lower your LDL levels if they are already high.

If you are relatively healthy and considered to be at low risk for coronary artery disease, your LDL cholesterol levels should be below 160 mg/dL. If you have other risk factors, such as diabetes, heart disease, or a family history of heart disease, your healthcare provider may want this number to be lower.

Although most cholesterol medications currently on the market lower LDL, your healthcare provider may want to use therapeutic lifestyle changes, or TLC, to see how low your LDL can go before medication is needed. So, whether you want to lower your LDL or prevent your LDL from increasing, these steps have been proven to help:

Weight Loss and Diet

Having a high body mass index (BMI) not only places you at risk for heart disease and other complications, it can also be correlated with high LDL levels. Research hints that losing even a small amount of weight (5% to 10%) may help lower LDL levels.

Although studies have shown losing weight helps lower LDL, it has also shown that eating the right types of foods are also helpful. Foods that are low in saturated fat and high in soluble fiber have been found to be helpful in lowering LDL.

Weight loss and diet can account for up to a 20% reduction in LDL levels.

More long-term studies are needed in order to determine whether or not it is actual weight loss or the diet and exercise that go along with it that causes the reduction. Some studies have indicated that LDL cholesterol returns to original levels eventually –- even when weight loss is maintained. Still, the prospect makes weight maintenance and good nutrition-worthy goals.

Get Moving

Exercise is not only good for losing weight, but moderate amounts of it may help lower your cholesterol levels –- especially your “bad” cholesterol. Aerobic exercises, such as running, cycling, jogging, and swimming, appear to benefit cholesterol the most by lowering LDL by 5% to 10%. Other forms of exercise, such as yoga, walking and weight-bearing exercises, have also been shown to decrease LDL levels. However, these forms of exercise have not been as extensively studied as aerobic exercise.

Stop Smoking

Smoking cessation not only has a large impact on levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, it can also slightly lower LDL levels. Cigarette smoking is linked to higher cholesterol levels as well as the formation of a damaging form of LDL called oxidized LDL. Oxidized LDL is a form of LDL that contributes to atherosclerosis. Some studies have shown that smoking cessation can lower LDL levels down to about 5%. Research has also shown that cholesterol levels, as well as oxidized forms of LDL, will decrease as soon as you stop smoking.

Drink Alcohol

Although moderate consumption of alcohol can significantly raise HDL levels, it can also lower LDL by about 4% to 8%. Moderate consumption means one drink a day for women, and one to two drinks per day for men. A typical serving of alcohol includes 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine. However, drinking more alcohol doesn’t necessarily equal better results in terms of improving your heart health. Studies have also indicated that drinking more than three alcoholic drinks a day could actually increase your chances of getting heart disease.

Sources:

Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (PDF), July 2004, The National Institutes of Heath: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Kloner RA, Rezkalla SH. To drink or not to drink? That is the question. Circulation. 2007 Sep 11;116(11):1306-17.

Pilz H, Oguogho A, Chehne et al. Quitting Cigarette Smoking Results in a Fast Improvement of in vivo Oxidation Injury. Thrombosis Research. 99(3): 209-221.

Powers E, Saultz J, Hamilton A, et al. Clinical inquiries. Which lifestyle interventions effectively lower LDL cholesterol? J Fam Pract. 2007 Jun;56(6):483-5.

Slentz CA, Houmard JA, Johnson JL, et al. Inactivity, exercise training and detraining, and plasma lipoproteins. STRRIDE: a randomized, controlled study of exercise intensity and amount. J Appl Physiol. e-pub 2007 Mar 29.

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