13. Get Better Sleep
Poor sleep – whether in quality, quantity, or both – is bad for you, plain and simple. It makes you feel run down, reduces cognitive function, and affects your health in the short- and long-term. Did you know that lack of sleep also affects your body’s cholesterol levels?
It turns out that, in addition to increasing inflammation and cortisol levels, sleep deprivation decreases HDL levels and increases LDL cholesterol (47, 48). Too much sleep can also decrease HDL levels, so it’s bet to aim for the recommended 7-9 hours per night. Just one week of sleep disruption can have a negative impact.
If you have trouble sleeping, try natural alternatives before turning to pharmaceuticals. Some tips: meditate in the evening; turn off all electronics with a screen at least 60 minutes before bed, and make sure you exercise regularly.
14. Quit Smoking
Unlike alcohol and caffeine, there is no moderate level of smoking that results in health benefits. On your checklist for “how to reduce cholesterol”, quitting smoking should be right at the top. It literally affects every system in your body, and not in a good way (49). Smoking is one of the fastest ways to lower your HDL cholesterol – the good kind that helps prevent heart disease (50).
For smokers who already have high cholesterol and/or coronary artery disease, quitting the habit is the best step you can take for your overall health. Studies show that the blood pressure, cholesterol, and lung function are all markedly improved in as little as 1-3 months (51, 52). Try some natural methods to help you quit, but there are also pharmaceutical options if you need extra help.
Quit smoking. You can do it. Seriously.
15. Reduce Stress
You may wonder exactly how stress can impact your cholesterol levels. Researchers have established an indirect link between stress and high cholesterol levels over the past several years (53). Individuals with higher stress levels are more likely to be diagnosed with high cholesterol levels. Lowering cholesterol naturally by reducing your stress levels makes a lot of sense when you consider the mind-body connection.
The link seems to be more of a correlation than a cause. For example, people who report higher stress levels tend to have more trouble sleeping, make worse food choices, and don’t exercise as much as those with lower stress levels. All of which contribute to higher cholesterol. Taking steps to reduce stress in your life, on the other hand, is associated with higher levels of HDL cholesterol and lower total cholesterol (54).
Consider taking up a hobby, like tai chi. Reconnect with nature through hikes or camping. Bottom line: take care of yourself and take active steps to reduce stress.
16. Avoid Air Pollution
Air pollution is finally getting some much-needed attention from the health research field. Several studies now link air pollution to a number of adverse health effects, including higher cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart disease (55, 56). Even in areas where the pollution levels are well below government-established safety levels, long-term exposure to air pollution shortens average lifespans.
It’s best to live in regions with cleaner air, but for some that isn’t an immediate option. Wear an air filter mask when you’re out and about in a city if you need to. Take steps to reduce pollution in your home so the air quality in your living space is as good as possible (57). Get an air filter, turn on the vent when you cook, dust/vacuum/mop often, and make sure to regularly replace all air filters.
17. Try Supplements
Supplements are not regulated by the FDA like it does medication, so their effectiveness can be hit or miss. For this reason, it’s always best to get the nutrients you need from food whenever possible. That being said, financial constraints, location, or dietary restrictions can make this hard or impossible to do.
Research the brand of supplement to make sure the company does third party testing for purity (58). Fish oil (Omega-3s), fiber, garlic, red yeast rice, and niacin are all generally well formulated in the supplement world for effectiveness (59, 60). As always, review any supplements with your doctor to avoid medication interactions. In some cases, your doctor may be able to prescribe more effective prescription supplements as well (61).
18. Eat Cholesterol Lowering Foods
It may seem a bit repetitive that diet and good foods to lower cholesterol keep coming up. The fact of the matter is that healthy eating is the best way to heal your body from the inside out. Lowering cholesterol naturally with as little medical intervention as necessary will only benefit you in the long run.
A low saturated fat, high fiber, Omega-3 and B-vitamin rich diet is just the beginning. Here are some general recommendations to get you started: Start your day with oatmeal and oat bran instead of sugary cereal and bacon (62). Add in some fresh fruit and cinnamon for sweetness instead of sugar. Incorporate healthy fats like avocado and olive oil, and opt for 100% whole grain breads and pastas instead of refined (processed) versions. Consider adding green tea and psyllium husks to your daily diet as well (63, 64).
Foods that lower cholesterol naturally are going to be better for you all around, but that doesn’t mean they’re not tasty. There are some wonderful resources online and in print for heart-healthy meals. Take some time to find recipes that you love and are easy to prepare. Cook in bulk and portion out your meals for the week so you don’t grab fast food in a hurry.
How to lower cholesterol levels: there is no wrong starting point with these recommendations. When it comes to your health, it is so important to take control and realize that your actions will determine the outcome. Some of the above recommendations might seem tough, but take it one step at a time. Make small changes at first so you can build on healthy habits. The most important thing is that you get started!