Without question, statin drugs lower cholesterol, but many people can’t tolerate their side effects. The FDA requires warnings of these risks on drug labels: possible liver damage; memory loss, forgetfulness, or confusion; muscle damage, which can manifest as muscle weakness or fatigue; and raised levels of blood sugar and risk
Ironically, statins deplete levels of CoQ10, a nutrient required by the heart and other muscles, and this is one reason why side effects occur. Taking CoQ10 supplements can help correct the problem, and is generally beneficial for the heart. Better still, there are drug-free options for lowering cholesterol.
Depending on your individual situation, natural remedies may be taken alone or, if recommended by a health practitioner, along with a statin to reduce the required dose. As dietary supplements, each of these is available as a single-ingredient product, and sometimes formulas combine two or more for a synergistic effect.
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Several studies have shown that fish oil supplements reduce triglyceride (fats in the blood) levels, according to the National Institutes of Health. Populations who eat a lot of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as Inuit Eskimos, also tend to have increased HDL (good) cholesterol and decreased triglycerides. Other foods, such as walnuts (high in alpha linolenic acid, which converts to omega-3s in the body), have been shown to lower total cholesterol and triglycerides in people with high cholesterol levels.
Also known as vitamin B3, niacin has been used to lower cholesterol since the 1950s. Both the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association officially recognize it as an effective alternative to statins in cholesterol guidelines published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. As well as being a dietary supplement, niacin is also available by prescription (Niaspan and Niacor are some prescription brands).
Research with a total of several thousand participants shows that in daily doses of one gram (1,000 mg) or more, niacin can reduce harmful cholesterol by 10–20
percent, raise beneficial cholesterol by 20–35 percent, and reduce triglycerides by 30–70 percent. It also reduces levels of very small particles of harmful LDL, which are considered especially dangerous. But not all forms of the nutrient work equally well.
In supplements, the form of niacin may be niacinamide (also called nicotinamide) or nicotinic acid, the technical name for niacin. In small doses for general nutrition, such as in a multivitamin, both forms are beneficial, but they differ when used in higher, therapeutic amounts.
Niacin (nicotinic acid) lowers cholesterol and triglycerides, but also has a temporary flushing effect for up to an hour or so, which not everyone can tolerate. The
niacinamide (or nicotinamide) form doesn’t have this side effect, but unfortunately, it doesn’t reduce cholesterol or triglycerides.
Some people are better able to tolerate time-released forms of niacin, sometimes described as slow-release or extended-release, which are designed to cause less flushing. One specific time-released form, inositol hexaniacinate, doesn’t cause any flushing, but studies of its cholesterol-lowering abilities have produced conflicting results, and perspectives of integrative physicians differ.
Using niacin: Look for niacin or nicotinic acid. According to a review of research
published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, most people experience mild to moderate flushing that reduces over time, even with higher doses. If you try inositol hexaniacinate and don’t get results, try regular niacin.
Cholesterol guidelines recommend starting with 100 mg of immediate-release niacin (meaning products that are not time-released), three times daily with food, then very gradually increasing the dose. For time-released niacin, start with 500 mg daily with food, and increase amounts very gradually, not more than once per week, according to your individual needs. Medical guidelines recommend using high-dose niacin only under the supervision of a health professional, and getting liver enzymes, blood sugar, and uric acid levels tested regularly. For some people, the flushing reaction eventually ceases.
Each of the following natural cholesterol-fighters is supported by studies and works in a somewhat different way. In addition to being available as single-ingredient supplements and formulas, some are added to cholesterol-lowering foods.
3. Plant Sterols and Stanols
Found in foods and supplements, these compounds reduce absorption of cholesterol and aid its elimination. In studies, approximately 2.5 grams daily reduced total and harmful LDL cholesterol by 10–15 percent.
Soluble fiber helps to eliminate cholesterol and may lower levels by up to 10 percent. Some different types and daily amounts include 5–10 grams of oat bran, up to 15 grams of beta-glucan, or 10 grams of psyllium.
See also The Real Deal on Fiber
5. Red Yeast Rice
It contains a natural statin-like substance that effectively lowers harmful LDL and total cholesterol while raising protective beneficial HDL. Because it works much like a statin, it may deplete CoQ10. Most studies have used 1.2–2.4 grams daily of red yeast rice powder.
Multiple studies in Cuba found that 5–10 mg of a sugar-derived form of policosanol, taken daily in the evening, can significantly reduce harmful cholesterol. Higher doses should be split in two, with one being taken with a meal earlier in the day.
An ancient Ayurvedic remedy made from the sap of a myrrh tree native to India, guggul has effectively lowered cholesterol in most published studies since the 1980s. It helps eliminate cholesterol, rather than blocking its production in the liver as statins do. Product formulations vary, so follow label directions or advice from a health practitioner.
During the past 30 years, at least 13 studies have looked at Pantesin, a patented form of vitamin B5 (pantethine), in lab, animal, and human trials. In one study, published in Vascular Health and Risk Management, harmful LDL cholesterol dropped by 11 percent among those taking 600 mg of Pantesin daily, for four weeks. It may enhance blood flow and favorably alter gut bacteria and cholesterol metabolism.
Sytrinol is a patented supplement ingredient derived from citrus and palm fruit. Research shows that in a month, 300 mg daily can lower total cholesterol by up to 30 percent, harmful LDL cholesterol by 27 percent, and triglycerides by 34 percent.
Supporting Supplements and Foods
Some additional supplements support healthy cholesterol levels as one of the many benefits, such as lower levels of chronic inflammation, better heart health, and overall well-being. These include fish oil, non-GMO soy protein, Aged Garlic Extract, vitamin D, and probiotics. Helpful foods include cocoa, nuts, olive oil, cinnamon, flaxseed and fish.
AW's Product Picks
AYUSH HERBS Guggul-Lip includes 50 mg of Commiphora mukul (aka guggul) extract.
JARROW FORMULAS Pantethine features the Pantesin form of vitamin B5, shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
SOLGAR Niacin 500 MG gets rave reviews online, including this one: “keeps better control of my cholesterol than statins ever did.”
THE VITAMIN SHOPPE Omega 3 Fish Oil 1100 MG is an excellent way to ensure adequate intake of omega-3s, shown to improve cholesterol numbers.
WAKUNAGA Kyolic Red Yeast Rice uses only organic, non-GMO red yeast rice, plus adds CoQ10 to help replenish stores often lowered by taking this statin-like supplement.