Vitamins to Lower Cholesterol

Cholesterol
Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
1st October 2020

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Reducing Cholesterol works best with a holistic approach that includes eating well, cutting bad habits and exercising more – but vitamins can be a useful way to boost results.
When taking vitamins for Cholesterol, it’s important to stick to the guidelines and be aware of side effects as well as the benefits.
Vitamins can help lower cholesterol, but they’re not a substitution for a healthy lifestyle.

When you’re looking for ways to reduce cholesterol, one of the first considerations we make is what we’re eating. High cholesterol has a number of causes, but smoking, drinking and regularly eating fatty foods is the main culprit – so it makes sense to switch to healthier meals to improve your heart health. But can vitamins help reduce cholesterol? And which ones should you take?

In this article, we’ll look at the best vitamins for cholesterol. Whether you’re looking for preventative steps to reduce total cholesterol in the body, or supplementing a new cholesterol-lowering diet, taking vitamins can be a helpful way to boost results and lower cholesterol naturally.

What is Cholesterol?

First off, when we talk about how to lower cholesterol, it’s helpful to know exactly what we mean – especially as scientific language often talks about cholesterol in lipoproteins. Confusingly enough, there are two kinds of these in the body – and one of them could be helpful in lowering cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that’s made in the liver or found in certain foods. It helps form hormones, Vitamin D and aids digestion. Triglycerides are another type of fat that’s used to store extra energy in your cells. Fats (or lipids) can’t circulate loosely in the blood, so they attach to a protein to become lipoproteins. The difference between these is the percentages of cholesterol, protein and triglyceride levels they contain.

  • The first kind is Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL). This is the “bad” stuff that contains more cholesterol. Having high levels of LDL cholesterol affects heart health – and increases your chance of high blood pressure, heart disease and heart attack. Some people are prescribed statins to help tackle high cholesterol because they prevent your body from producing it.
  • High-density Lipoprotein (HDL) is the “good” one. It has less cholesterol. Because of this, it’s generally thought to absorb cholesterol around the body and carry it back to the liver, so it can be excreted. However, there’s some debate about the exact role HDL cholesterol plays in the body. 

While cholesterol isn’t necessarily bad, having high cholesterol (i.e. too much total cholesterol) can clog up your arteries, which is where the risk factors increase and the health problems begin.

Which Vitamins Reduce Cholesterol?

Can vitamins lower cholesterol levels? There is evidence to suggest that it’s possible. Here’s a breakdown of the best vitamins to lower cholesterol – however, it’s important to note that these should be taken as part of a healthy lifestyle. The clue’s in the name – it’s a supplement for a bit of extra help, not an alternative to eating well and exercising.

1. Niacin

Your body needs Vitamin B (or ‘Niacin’) to keep your nervous system, digestive system and skin healthy, and it has been shown to increase HDL blood cholesterol (i.e. the “good cholesterol”) by 30 percent. If you follow the school of thought that increased HDL cholesterol helps your body flush out cholesterol, it’s easy to see its benefits.

However, recent research suggests niacin therapy isn’t linked to lower rates of heart disease. In fact, taking very high doses of Vitamin B can increase your risk of high blood sugar levels, type 2 diabetes, liver damage, and stroke. While we’re talking about extremes here, the negatives of niacin are too relevant to ignore. This is why many doctors no longer recommend niacin to reduce cholesterol — except for people who can’t tolerate statins.

2. Soluble Fiber

You’ve heard of fiber before – it’s the stuff that makes you “regular”. There are two kinds – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves into a gel in liquid and is thought to help lower cholesterol levels. This is because it attaches easily to fats. As it moves through the intestine, it “grabs” cholesterol, bile salts and sugar, which are then excreted. This is doubly helpful as the body needs bile salts, so it uses up more cholesterol to make up the difference. 

Dietary supplements are a useful way to keep on top of how much soluble fiber you’re getting, but you don’t need a high dose, as you’ll also find it in many foods, including oranges, pears, peaches, potato, asparagus, oatmeal, kidney beans and whole wheat bread. According to the Mayo Clinic, Just having cereal for breakfast topped with fruit can give you the five grams you need daily for lower LDL cholesterol levels.

3. Psyllium

Granted, it’s not as familiar-sounding as Vitamin B or fiber, but you might consider adding Psyllium to your routine. It’s made from the Plantago Otava plant and comes in a pill or powder form. Similar to fiber, Psyllium binds to fats and bile acids, so your body can excrete them instead of reabsorbing them into the blood. It’s also been proven to significantly lower LDL levels – by five to 10 percent.

It should be noted that Psyllium is also an ingredient in many over-the-counter laxatives. It’s not necessarily going to get you in toilet trouble, but you might notice some changes to your digestion. Side effects can be gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation. If you’re taking prescription medication, do it an hour before your morning dose of psyllium. 

4. Phytosterols

Phytosterols are naturally occurring compounds found in plant cell membranes. If you think they sound like cholesterol, it’s because they are: they are known as ‘plant sterols’ and are structurally similar and compete with cholesterol for absorption in the digestive system, so more cholesterol is excreted rather than absorbed. However, unlike cholesterol, phytosterol doesn’t enter the bloodstream. 

Phytosterols are found in vegetable oil, nuts, whole grains, fruit and vegetables. There’s evidence that introducing more to our diet can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, the average person gets less than 500mg of these a day, which is not enough to lower cholesterol. Supplements are therefore a handy method to boost results.

5. Fish Oil

Oily fish, such as sardines and salmon, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which your body needs for many functions, including muscle activity and cell growth. In clinical trials, fish oil supplements have been shown to lower triglyceride levels, which are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Similarly, fish oil supplements taken for at least six months were shown to lower the risk of heart attack in high-risk people.

Fish oil supplements are considered safe – and contain almost no mercury, which can be a concern in certain types of fish. There are a couple of points to look out for though – firstly, it’s unclear whether people with shellfish or fish allergies can safely take it, and it also tastes pretty bad. Potential side effects include bad breath, nausea, and loose stools.

Key Takeaways: Which Vitamins Reduce Cholesterol?

Knowing which vitamins are good for cholesterol and introducing them to your routine can be a useful way to boost results of a balanced diet and exercise routine – but no single vitamin offers all the answers, and they’re not a substitute for making healthy lifestyle choices when tackling your blood cholesterol levels. 

Similarly, sometimes overhauling the routine isn’t enough. If you suffer from high cholesterol, it’s important you take it seriously – and you should discuss any medications with your doctor. If you’re on cholesterol medication, be careful how you mix it with supplements, and don’t go substituting supplements for your prescribed meds. 

References

  1. NHS – What is high cholesterol?: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-cholesterol/

  2. Heart UK – What is cholesterol?: https://www.heartuk.org.uk/cholesterol/what-is-cholesterol

  3. NCBI – The Role of Lipids and Lipoproteins in Atherosclerosis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK343489/

  4. Preethi Mani and Anand Rohatgi (2015). Niacin Therapy, HDL Cholesterol, and Cardiovascular Disease: Is the HDL Hypothesis Defunct?: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4829575/

  5. Mayo Clinic – Niacin: https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-niacin/art-20364984

  6. Raleigh Medical Group  – INCREASE FIBER TO DECREASE CHOLESTEROL: https://www.raleighmedicalgroup.com/blog/entryid/528/how-to-lower-cholesterol-with-fiber

  7. Mayo Clinic – Cholesterol: Top foods to improve your numbers: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/cholesterol/art-20045192

  8. James W Anderson, Michael H Davidson, Lawrence Blonde, W Virgil Brown, W James Howard, Henry Ginsberg, Lisa D Allgood, Kurt W Weingand (2000). Long-term cholesterol-lowering effects of psyllium as an adjunct to diet therapy in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/71/6/1433/4729388

  9. Oregon State University -Phytosterols: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/phytosterols

  10. Stephanie Jew, Suhad S AbuMweis, Peter J H Jones (2009). Evolution of the human diet: linking our ancestral diet to modern functional foods as a means of chronic disease prevention: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19857053/

  11. Cleveland Clinic – Boost Your Cholesterol-Lowering Potential With Phytosterols: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17368-phytosterols-sterols–stanols

  12. Samaneh Ghasemi Fard, Fenglei Wang, Andrew J Sinclair, Glenn Elliott, Giovanni M Turchini  (2018). How does high DHA fish oil affect health? A systematic review of evidence: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29494205/

  13. Mayo Clinic – Fish Oil: https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-fish-oil/art-20364810

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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