NOTE: This post was written in 2013 but has been revised and updated several times since.
6 months ago I opened the letter from my clinic and saw the results of my blood test. My cholesterol was 243. That’s high. Medication is often recommended for a cholesterol level above 240. So now I knew I had to do something.
I had just been in for a routine physical exam. I knew my cholesterol could be a little high. 2 years ago it was 203 which is borderline high.
With my level now at 243 my doctor recommended I try to lower my cholesterol naturally with diet and exercise. Then, after trying that, if my cholesterol was still high I would be advised to go on cholesterol lowering medication. I did not want that. So I started researching about how to lower my cholesterol without medication.
Lowering My Cholesterol – Getting Started
The most common advice is to eat less fatty foods and less junk food. Eat more fruits and vegetables. And of course get more exercise.
Most people already know these things. But there were a few new things I learned.
I didn’t really know what trans fat was. Sure I’d heard of it. You see the labels on all kinds of grocery store items claiming “0 grams trans fat”. Trans fat is probably the worst thing you can consume. It’s pretty well accepted by everyone that it’s not good. It raises cholesterol levels. Actually it raises the level of bad cholesterol and lowers the level of good cholesterol. Trans fat is unsaturated fat that has been partially hydrogenated. A lot of products contained trans fat in the past. It has been taken out of many products. But it’s still around. French fries from many restaurants may be cooked in oils that contain trans fat. It’s also found in commercially sold baked goods like cookies, cakes, chips, and donuts.
I had no idea that sugar could cause heart disease. I thought it was just fatty foods and lack of exercise. More about this in a minute.
I hadn’t really thought about processed food being bad. The more I learned the more I discovered it to be true.
I couldn’t remember which was the bad cholesterol and which was the good. I know, I was pretty out of touch with this! HDL is the good cholesterol and LDL is the bad cholesterol. This is a simplification though. It’s more complicated than that.
I started looking for the best information I could find about lowering my cholesterol. I found many good sources on the Internet including WebMD, Wikipedia, the Mayo Clinic website, and the American Heart Association website. There’s more information about heart disease than you need.
I also stumbled upon some new ideas. I found a book by Dr Dwight Lundell, a heart surgeon of 25 years. And another book by Dr Stephen Sinatra and Dr Jonny Bowden, another heart surgeon and a nutritionist. They all claim that sugar is more harmful than fat and cholesterol. This topic is a little controversial and new studies are revealing new ways of thinking about preventing heart disease. The basic theme is that cholesterol is not as bad as everyone says. In fact it’s very important to have enough of it.
Foods To Avoid
Sugar. Deserts. Ice cream. Cookies. Candy. Anything with sugar I try to avoid. This is not as difficult as you might think. Dark chocolate is actually a healthy choice that is recommended. As long as it’s at least 70% cocoa. There are many fruits that are sweet tasting too.
White bread should be avoided. I’m even getting to the point of avoiding wheat bread because there is apparently evidence that wheat is bad for you.
Red meat is often blamed for causing bad health. But I don’t totally avoid it. I try to eat the leaner meats like 93% fat free hamburger. I still enjoy a steak once in a while. A hamburger is fine too. I’m more resistant to eating the bun than the meat.
Foods You Should Eat
Blueberries are high on the recommended list. They contain antioxidants and can be very beneficial for heart health.
Oat meal. This is probably the biggest change I made in my diet. I eat a bowl of old fashioned oat meal every morning. The flattened kind. My wife likes the steel cut oatmeal which is not flattened and even more healthy because it’s retains more of it’s nutrients. Add blueberries to the oatmeal and you have a very healthy breakfast. Oatmeal is high in soluble fiber too. Studies have indicated that it can reduce cholesterol. NOTE: I have not been eating oatmeal for a few years because it can cause blood sugar to rise according to Dr William Davis (Wheat Belly Book). Even though it’s promoted as low glycemic and heart healthy.
ANOTHER UPDATE 2017
I no longer drink orange juice. In the first year or two when I was trying to lower my cholesterol I would drink a large glass of so called “heart healthy” orange juice every morning. Along with a big bowl of oatmeal with blueberries (blueberries are good). The orange juice container even had a picture of a heart on it and boasted about how “heart healthy” it was. The orange juice would raise my blood sugar quite a lot, especially a large glass. No more orange juice!
Fruits, vegetables, and nuts. I’ve eaten more apples and bananas during the past 6 months. I’ve also eaten more almonds, walnuts, and other kinds of nuts. Almonds and walnuts are two of the more nutritious nuts. You’ll find almonds on most lists of heart healthy foods. Avocados and olive oil are also on most heart healthy food lists. I try to use them as often as I can.
Fish Oil. This is one of the most beneficial supplements for heart health. Fish, especially salmon, is high in omega 3 fatty acids. Most Americans do not consume enough omega 3. We get too much omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 is commonly found in vegetable oils which has been promoted as a healthy alternative to animal fats. Some research now suggests that replacing animal fats with omega 6 vegetable fats may increase the risk of heart disease. So, omega 3 from salmon and sardines, or from fish oil supplements, is good for your heart.
Vitamins and minerals.
I hit a dead end when trying to find the best quality multivitamin. I searched the internet and found several websites that claimed to review them. But the reviews were also sponsored and didn’t appear to be honest and objective. Making sure the content of a multivitamin matches the label on the bottle is important. But the quality and amount of each ingredient is also important. I think that finding a quality multivitamin is a good idea. But I don’t have any recommendations on which brand is best.
This is the one I’ve been most resistant to. I don’t really enjoy exercising. But I found a solution that works for me. I run up the stairs in my house about 30 times. It’s only about a 15 minute workout. I don’t have to leave home. I don’t have to even change clothes. I just do it and I’m done. It’s good enough to get me winded and get my heart beating fast.
The Cholesterol Test 6 Months Later
I really didn’t know what to expect when I got my cholesterol checked again. I figured I made some improvement but it was only a guess on what the numbers would be. I opened the letter with the lipid panel results and found that my total cholesterol was 199. Wow, I was glad to see that. From 243 to 199. From high to acceptable. Borderline high is considered 200-240. Above 240 is high.
But I had to look closer at the specific types. LDL was now at 132. It had been 161 six months ago. HDL went from 54 to 44. Triglycerides went from 141 to 116. Everything was improved except HDL. HDL is the good kind of cholesterol so a high number is better.
Total Cholesterol to HDL Ratio
Some say this is a more accurate indicator than the simple total cholesterol number. According to an article on the WebMD website a ratio of 3.5 to 1 is good. A ratio of 5 to 1 is bad. Higher is worse. My ratio went from 4.5 to 4.53. So it’s actually a bit worse than it was before even though my total cholesterol is much lower.
Triglycerides to HDL Ratio
According to Dr Jonny Bowden this is a better indicator than the total cholesterol number. My ratio went from 2.6111 to 2.636. A good number is 2. A bad number is 5. The closer to 2 you can be the better. So my ratio is not bad but it worsened a bit since 6 months ago.
C Reactive Protein
According to Dr Dwight Lundell this test is as good an indicator for coronary artery disease as LDL or possibly better. My result was .3 which is good. Anything below 1.0 is low risk for heart disease. Anything above 3.0 is high risk. I did not have this test done 6 months ago so I don’t know if it changed for me. I feel pretty good about my number being .3.
LDL Particle Size Test
This test had to be done at another lab because my local clinic does not perform this one. There’s a lot of details here and it gets beyond the scope of my knowledge. Basically the test measures the amount of large LDL particles and small LDL particles. It also measures HDL and VLDL (very low density lipoproteins). The large particles are harmless and the small particles are harmful. I don’t know what affects the particle size or how you go about making improvements here. I’ve read that this is genetic and may be difficult to change naturally.
Going forward I’ll continue exercising as much as I can stand it. I know you have to keep it fun or it won’t continue. Exercising is important though and it helps improve HDL.
Avoid the bad foods, eat the healthy foods, and take some quality supplements. Avoiding fast food and processed food may be one of the main things that helped improve my cholesterol level. Avoid white bread and most wheat products. Avoid or cut back on pasta. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Cook with extra virgin olive oil. Take omega 3 fish oil supplements with DHA and EPA. Take a quality multivitamin pill and baby aspirin daily (if it’s OK with your doctor).
For more information about how to lower cholesterol read some of my other articles.
We’ll see where this takes me. The next cholesterol test will tell. In 6 months I’ll have that answer.
UPDATE April 13, 2018
It’s been over 5 years since I wrote this. I’ve had my lipids checked a few more times since. So here’s the results:
HDL Cholesterol: 54
LDL Cholesterol: 161
HDL Cholesterol: 44
LDL Cholesterol: 132
HDL Cholesterol: 55
LDL Cholesterol: 119
HDL Cholesterol: 52
LDL Cholesterol: 136
In 2017 I was feeling very fortunate and happy with the trend. I’ve slipped a little in 2018. I’m still much better though than back in 2012. The goal for next year will be to make improvements especially on the LDL.
I’m mostly in the acceptable ranges for the individual readings. Acceptable ranges are:
Cholesterol: 0-200 MG/DL
Triglycerides 60-150 MG/DL
HDL Cholesterol: 40-59 MG/DL
LDL Cholesterol: 0-130 MG/DL