Foods That Claim to Lower Cholesterol

Some seeds, extracts, and compounds claim to lower cholesterol, but many should be taken only with a healthy dose of caution.

Many foods and supplements claim to lower cholesterol. But do they really? Sometimes the answer is no, and sometimes the answer is that we don't know. In some instances, studies that support claims that a food lowers cholesterol are conducted by the very people who are selling the product, or the studies are poorly designed. In other instances, the studies conducted to test whether a food lowers cholesterol are just inconclusive.  

The foods discussed on the following pages are ones that doctors don't recommend for a variety of reasons. If you are interested in taking a chance that these foods will work for you, talk with your doctor first. And keep a record every time you have your blood cholesterol tested to see if you experience any progress while taking these foods or supplements.

Flaxseed is a plant-based supplement that contains omega-3 fatty acids. Read on to learn the possible benefits of flaxseed on cholesterol levels.  

To find out more information about reducing cholesterol, see:  

  • Foods That Lower Cholesterol: Many foods and supplements are proven to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. Learn which foods can help lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease. 
  • Can Vitamins Lower Cholesterol?: Can a vitamin regimen really help lower cholesterol? Learn just how effective vitamin therapy can be.  
  • Low Cholesterol Diet: Eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is the best way to reduce your cholesterol. Explore the dietary choices that can help you lower your cholesterol.  
  • How Cholesterol Works: Cholesterol is vital to human life. Learn what cholesterol is, why we need it, and how too much can be deadly.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Flaxseed

Flaxseed is the richest plant source of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). It also contains heart-healthy soluble fiber. ALA, which is found only in plant foods, is considered an essential fatty acid because the body cannot make it on its own -- it must be supplied by the diet. In addition to flaxseed and flaxseed oil, other good sources of ALA include English walnuts, canola oil, soybean oil, and leafy greens. According to the Institute of Medicine, women should get 1.1 g of ALA a day, and men should get 1.6 g, which is on target with the amount the typical American adult consumes. 

Our bodies can convert some ALA -- about 15 percent -- to DHA and EPA, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, but a diet high in trans fat and polyunsaturated fat may inhibit the conversion. So don't count on ALA as your main source of DHA and EPA.  

Is ALA as good for your heart as DHA and EPA? Some studies have shown that consuming up to 2.8 g of ALA each day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. The Nurses' Health Study found that those who consumed the most ALA (an average of 1.4 g a day) lowered their risk of dying from a fatal heart attack by 45 percent, as compared with those who consumed the least amount (an average of 0.7 g a day). However, despite this evidence, it's uncertain whether flaxseed or flaxseed oil lowers blood-cholesterol levels.

Guggul, an extract from tree resin, also claims to reduce cholesterol. See the next page to find out if research can confirm these claims.  

To find out more information about reducing cholesterol, see:  

  • How Cholesterol Works: Cholesterol is vital to human life. Learn what cholesterol is, why we need it, and how too much can be deadly.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Guggul

Guggul is an extract from the resin of a tree native to India. A form of the extract, guggulipid, has traditionally been used to reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, and to increase HDL cholesterol. However, in 2003, a well-designed study found that taking 1 to 2 g of guggulipid a day actually raised LDL cholesterol and did not change total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, or triglycerides. Additionally, some people developed rashes. At this time, there is not enough evidence to support the use of guggul to treat high blood cholesterol.

Like guggul, lecithin is a dietary supplement that claims to lower cholesterol. Unlike guggul, lecithin can be found in many common food products. Read on to learn if lecithin has any proven cholesterol-lowering benefits.

To find out more information about reducing cholesterol, see:

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Lecithin

Lecithin, a powder produced commercially from soybeans, is used as an emulsifier to keep water and fat from separating in foods and can be found in margarine, chocolate, baked goods, and breakfast cereals. Lecithin can also be found naturally in egg yolks. In addition, the human liver produces lecithin, and the brain and nerves are rich in this substance, which is important for conducting nerve impulses through the body. As part of the structure of lipoproteins, lecithin functions in the transport of triglycerides and cholesterol through the blood as well.

Lecithin is a popular dietary supplement, credited with improving memory as well as helping with a variety of ailments, including arthritis, gallstones, and skin disorders; however, scientific evidence supporting these claims is inconclusive. Lecithin supplements have also been promoted as a method for lowering blood cholesterol, but a small study of men with high blood-lipid levels found that after four weeks of consuming 20 g of lecithin a day, there was no significant effect on total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, or triglycerides.

One of the products of lecithin digestion in the body is linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid. Because polyunsaturated fat can lower blood cholesterol, it may be the linoleic acid that is responsible for the cholesterol-lowering effect commonly attributed to lecithin. In this case, vegetable oils constitute a more economical source of linoleic acid than lecithin supplements because vegetable oils can provide more linoleic acid for the money.

Like lecithin, the supplement policosanol is derived from natural foods. See the next page to learn about the potential benefits and effectiveness of policosanol.

To find out more information about reducing cholesterol, see:

  • Foods That Lower Cholesterol: Many foods and supplements are proven to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. Learn which foods can help lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease.
  • Can Vitamins Lower Cholesterol?: Can a vitamin regimen really help lower cholesterol? Learn just how effective vitamin therapy can be.
  • How Cholesterol Works: Cholesterol is vital to human life. Learn what cholesterol is, why we need it, and how too much can be deadly.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Policosanol

Policosanol, a mix of natural compounds, is most often derived from sugar cane but also may come from beeswax, wheat germ, or rice bran. It is promoted as a dietary supplement for lowering cholesterol. More than 80 studies, mostly conducted by a single research institute in Cuba, suggest that 5 to 40 milligrams (mg) a day of policosanol can lower LDL cholesterol up to 30 percent, as well as reduce total cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. However, a recent German study found that policosanol from sugar cane had no significant effect on total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, or triglycerides, and policosonal is not recommended by doctors.

Before you choose to take a policosanol supplement, you should be aware of a few things. In addition to the conflicting evidence as to its effectiveness in treating high cholesterol, the long-term effects are unknown. The amount of policosanol in different supplements is not standardized, and some products may contain other ingredients as well.

Red yeast rice is also a plant byproduct. Read on to discover the possible benefits and pitfalls of this centuries-old supplement.

To find out more information about reducing cholesterol, see:

  • Foods That Lower Cholesterol: Many foods and supplements are proven to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. Learn which foods can help lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease.
  • Can Vitamins Lower Cholesterol?: Can a vitamin regimen really help lower cholesterol? Learn just how effective vitamin therapy can be.
  • How Cholesterol Works: Cholesterol is vital to human life. Learn what cholesterol is, why we need it, and how too much can be deadly.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Red Yeast Rice

Red yeast rice is the fermented product of red yeast grown on rice. It has been used for centuries in China as a food colorant, flavor enhancer, and dietary staple in several Asian countries. Some strains of Chinese red yeast rice produce compounds called monacolins, which inhibit the production of cholesterol in the body. One of these compounds, monacolin K (also known as mevinolin or lovastatin), is thought to be particularly effective in lowering cholesterol levels. Lovastatin is the generic name for the cholesterol-lowering prescription drug Mevacor.

Red yeast rice had been sold as a natural cholesterol-lowering supplement, and it was the active ingredient in the proprietary dietary supplement Cholestin. In a 1999 study, evidence showed Cholestin lowered LDL cholesterol by 22 percent, suggesting a cheaper way to lower cholesterol than taking prescription drugs. But in 2001, a U.S. federal district court, with the support of the Food and Drug Administration, banned Cholestin because it contained the same active ingredient, monacolin K, or lovastatin, as the drug Mevacor. As a result, the manufacturers of Cholestin replaced the red yeast rice with policosanol. In June 2005, Cholestin was again reformulated with a proprietary blend of natural plant and marine oils called Lipidol.

Red yeast rice supplements are still available today, although you may have to search the Internet to find them, and the products may not be standardized. Many red yeast rice products do not contain monacolin K, although a few still do. Doctors do not recommend red yeast rice specifically because of the lack of standardization.

One of the most popular food products used to lower cholesterol is soy. But does it really work? See the next page to explore the healthful aspects of soy.

To find out more information about reducing cholesterol, see:

  • Foods That Lower Cholesterol: Many foods and supplements are proven to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. Learn which foods can help lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease.
  • Can Vitamins Lower Cholesterol?: Can a vitamin regimen really help lower cholesterol? Learn just how effective vitamin therapy can be.
  • How Cholesterol Works: Cholesterol is vital to human life. Learn what cholesterol is, why we need it, and how too much can be deadly.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Soy

Over the years, soy has garnered a lot of attention for its potential role in reducing blood cholesterol. In 1995, a review of 38 clinical trials found that, on average, soy protein reduced total cholesterol by over 9 percent and LDL cholesterol by nearly 13 percent. However, the response to soy protein depended on how high the blood-cholesterol level was at the start. People with total cholesterol levels greater than 335 mg/dL benefited the most, while those with cholesterol levels less than 260 mg/dL showed only a modest decrease in their cholesterol levels.

In 1999, based on the research to date, the Food and Drug Administration approved products containing at least 6.25 g of soy protein per serving to claim that diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 g of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease.

But not all the research over the past ten years has found that soy protein lowers cholesterol. In 2006, the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee reviewed 22 studies on soy protein and found that a very large amount of soy protein -- in fact, about half the total daily protein usually consumed in a day -- lowered cholesterol by only approximately 3 percent. In reviewing 19 studies on isoflavones, a component of soy, the Committee found no reduction in LDL cholesterol.

The beneficial effects of soy may come from replacing animal products that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol with soy products, such as tofu, soy nuts, and soy burgers, which are low in saturated fat and higher in polyunsaturated fat, fiber, and nutrients.

To find out more information about reducing cholesterol, see:

  • Foods That Lower Cholesterol: Many foods and supplements are proven to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. Learn which foods can help lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease.
  • Can Vitamins Lower Cholesterol?: Can a vitamin regimen really help lower cholesterol? Learn just how effective vitamin therapy can be.
  • Low Cholesterol Diet: Eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is the best way to reduce your cholesterol. Explore the dietary choices that can help you lower your cholesterol.
  • How Cholesterol Works: Cholesterol is vital to human life. Learn what cholesterol is, why we need it, and how too much can be deadly.

ABOUT THE AUTHORAdrienne Forman, M.S., R.D., is a consultant and freelance writer, specializing in nutrition and health communications. She is the editor of Shape Up America! newsletter, an online publication, and has been a contributing editor of Environmental Nutrition newsletter for the past 14 years. Adrienne is a former Senior Nutritionist at Weight Watchers International, where she was instrumental in creating multiple weight-loss programs, including their popular Points® program.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.