Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Anyone can develop high blood cholesterol. In fact, about 13 percent of American adults has the condition, putting them at an increased risk for heart disease. You can have high blood cholesterol and not even know it, because it can occur without any symptoms. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) here at NIH recommends that all adults 20 and older have their cholesterol levels checked at least once every 5 years, and more often if your cholesterol levels are elevated.
We know from the National Health Interview Survey that high blood cholesterol is one of the top 10 reasons people turn to complementary health practices such as dietary supplements. Red yeast rice, flaxseed, and garlic are among the many supplements that have been studied for lowering cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, current research tells us that there just isn’t conclusive evidence that these popular supplements are effective. NCCAM’s Web site has evidence-based information on what the science says about these and other dietary supplements often marketed for lowering blood cholesterol.
But there is some good news. There are steps you can take to lower your cholesterol levels and to protect your health—things like changing your diet, managing your weight, and exercising regularly. For some people, taking a cholesterol-lowering drug may also be necessary. But even then, diet, weight management, and exercise can help make a difference. NHLBI provides resources and tips on how to make heart healthy lifestyle changes through their Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes program (1.7MB PDF)—a three-part program that uses diet, physical activity, and weight management for reducing high blood cholesterol.
It’s important to ask your health care provider about proven steps you can take to lower your cholesterol levels. And be sure to talk with your provider about any complementary health practice you are considering, including dietary supplements. This will help ensure your safe and coordinated care. Take care and be well!