Upon discovering elevated cholesterol levels, a common concern for many, the immediate reaction might be one of panic. However, there are various measures one can take beyond traditional medications. In particular, dietary supplements, combined with certain lifestyle changes, can play an effective role in managing cholesterol levels.
Dietitian Vanessa King, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, explains that supplements can be a valuable addition to a person’s diet when certain nutrients are lacking or when a higher dose is needed than can be provided by diet alone. But it’s essential to remember, King emphasises, that supplements should act as a complement to a food-first approach, as whole foods offer a plethora of nutrients and health-promoting substances, notably phytonutrients which protect against ailments like heart disease.
While the efficacy varies among supplements, some have shown promise in promoting heart health and managing cholesterol. Here’s a breakdown of these supplements:
- Benefits both soluble and insoluble types; however, soluble fibre directly aids in cholesterol management.
- Forms a gel-like substance slowing digestion and controlling cholesterol.
- Psyllium, wheat dextrin, beta glucan, and inulin are primary sources in soluble fibre supplements.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Found in foods such as fish and flaxseed.
- Plays a role in cell membrane formation and hormone production.
- Evidenced to help lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol.
- Especially effective in reducing triglycerides.
- Plant-based source of omega-3 ALA.
- Must be ground before consumption for effective absorption.
- Shown to reduce cholesterol levels significantly when combined with other medications.
Plant Sterols and Stanols
- Naturally found in vegetables, grains, and nuts.
- Reduces cholesterol absorption in the intestines.
- Intake can lower LDL cholesterol levels by up to 14% in some individuals.
Supplements to Approach with Caution
While many supplements hold promise, others might not provide the expected benefits or may even pose risks. Here’s a list of supplements to be cautious about:
- Artichoke Leaf Extract: Limited evidence for cholesterol management.
- Berberine: Though some studies highlight its potential, concerns about side effects and drug interactions remain.
- Niacin: Requires very high doses to be effective, best taken under medical supervision.
- Vitamin C: Mixed evidence on its effectiveness in improving cholesterol levels.
Time Frame for Cholesterol Improvement
Patience is essential when incorporating supplements for cholesterol management. It might take several weeks or even months to notice significant changes in cholesterol levels. Various factors, including the type of supplement, the dosage, and individual baseline cholesterol levels, play a part in this duration. Consistency and adherence to recommendations are crucial.
The Power of Lifestyle Changes
Incorporating supplements is just one aspect of cholesterol management. Embracing broader lifestyle changes can create a more profound impact. For example, following a plant-based diet that emphasises fruits, vegetables, seeds, grains, and legumes can significantly benefit heart health. As Dr. Mintz from the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital mentions, even a month of consistent, healthy habits can set one on a successful path to managing cholesterol and preventing cardiovascular complications.
Addressing high cholesterol requires a multifaceted approach that combines dietary, lifestyle, and supplementary measures. By being informed and proactive, individuals can take charge of their heart health and pave the way for a healthier future.