The best treatment in diseases such as atherosclerosis, or coronary artery disease, is prevention. Lifestyle changes like exercise, quitting smoking and changing your diet are an important place to start, but sometimes you just need more help.
Drugs like the statin medications work well to lower cholesterol but may come with some side effects. I am often asked by patients: what natural remedies really work to lower cholesterol?
There are some options out there, but before I show you some promising and well-studied plants that may help lower cholesterol, please remember a few things: these are unregulated and may carry issues of toxicity. Talk to your doctor about medication interactions. And if a natural remedy isn’t working for you after a few months, don’t waste your time or money. Most importantly, consider taking these under the care of a traditional herbal medicine doctor.
- Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus). Artichoke leaves work as a diuretic and stimulate the release of bile from the liver. Some animal studies suggest artichoke leaves may inhibit cholesterol production in the liver. One study on adults found that artichoke leaves lowered cholesterol by 18.%. The optimal dose for lowering cholesterol is not known, though 6 grams a day of the dried herb is used for indigestion.
- Alfalfa (Medicago Sativa). Research done on monkeys suggests that alfalfa seeds can decrease cholesterol. Several warnings here though: alfalfa has estrogen-like properties and contains high amounts of Vitamin K, so folks using warfarin (Coumadin) should stay away. The seeds also contain L-cavanin, a substance that can cause an issue with blood cells. Until we know more, perhaps stay away from this.
- Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum L). Studies done on lab animals and some humans suggest fenugreek decreases the level of blood sugar in diabetics and may lower cholesterol. Human studies have shown fenugreek lowers triglycerides and raises HDL cholesterol, possibly by increasing biliary cholesterol excretion. The usual dose is 5 to 30 grams of the plant seed powder, three times a day.
- Garlic (Allium sativum). Although it is often claimed that garlic decreases cholesterol, results are mixed. Some studies in the ’80s and ’90s showed it decreased cholesterol, but more recent evidence has shown contrary results. The consensus now is that the enteric-coated garlic supplements have potential to improve the cholesterol profile of those with mild to moderate high cholesterol, when used along with a low fat diet.
- Soybean (Glycine Max). Studies have suggested soybean can lower LDL cholesterol as much as 12%. The U.S. FDA recommends 25 grams of soybean protein to decrease blood cholesterol. Caution here: soy decreases the level of testosterone in men and has estrogen-like properties.
- Silimaryne (Silybum marianum L). Silmaryne is an herbal drug believed to lower cholesterol synthesis in the liver. Silimaryne 420 mg a day was shown to lower cholesterol in a study on 14 patients.
- Red Yeast Rice. Red yeast rice has been reported to lower cholesterol in the same way as statins. One of the compounds in the yeast works as an HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor which is how statin drugs (Crestor, atorvastatin, simvastatin) work. A product called colistin obtained from this yeast is given 1.2 to 2.4 grams daily to lower cholesterol. The same warnings apply here as with statins and those with liver issues should stay away from it.
- Guggul (Commiphora mukul). Guggul is an adhesive gum obtained from the Mukul myrrh tree. In a study on 61 people, taking guggul at 100 mg a day lowered LDL cholesterol by 12.7%. Additional studies have shown improvement in triglycerides and total cholesterol.
- Plantago Psyllium. This is a fiber derived from Plantago ovate seed husk. 6 to 8 weeks of psyllium treatment can lower cholesterol by about 5%. The dose is 5 to 15 grams of the seed husk to lower blood cholesterol.
- Guar Gum (Cyamopsis retragonoloba). Guar gum is the nutrient derived from the edible seed of this plant. Guar gum at a dose of 15 grams per day has been shown to lower cholesterol in adults. Another plus: it suppresses appetite as well.