The Best Supplements to Lower Cholesterol
Every year millions of North Americans are diagnosed by their doctors as having high cholesterol and are tasked with bringing their LDL and total cholesterol levels down.
Moderating diet and increasing exercise to lower cholesterol is time consuming and often produces mixed results. On the other hand, many individuals are prescribed statins by their doctors. These drugs, while often effective, come with severe side effects such as muscle pain, headaches, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and long term exposure can result in permeant liver damage.
A third, and often much more desirable option, is to add supplements to your diet in order to obtain results.
In this article we’ll look at some of the top cholesterol lowering supplements on the market today, how they work, and what side effects to watch out for.
Barley beta-glucan fiber is rapidly gaining in popularity. This fiber is extracted from the cell walls of barley grains and is arguably the most effective natural supplement on the market today. It has been extensively proven to lower both LDL (bad) and total cholesterol levels in individuals if consumed daily for between 4 to 12 weeks. This health claim is approved by Health Canada, the FDA, and EFSA.
While barley beta-glucan will often not lower cholesterol levels as quickly as statins, it is proven to work more effectively than other natural supplements such as psyllium fiber. Additionally, unlike statins and other supplements which have negative side effects, this fiber will improve digestion and gut health and can help regulate blood sugar levels – reducing blood glucose spikes after meals resulting in more continuous energy.
Barley beta-glucan is easily consumed. In the case of Cerabeta, you only need to take 3 tablespoons per day to get the daily recommended amount of beta-glucan. The fine texture means that it can be dissolved in water and other liquids or incorporated into foods. Brands such as NutraStat and Cerabeta offer premium barley beta-glucan fiber, and Canadian company Sunny Boy Foods offers a muesli style cereal with beta-glucan added.
The best thing about barley beta-glucan is that it is naturally extracted without the use of chemicals or enzymes and has only a single ingredient: barley, which makes it the most natural supplement available today.
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Niacin is a B vitamin found naturally in a variety of foods such as fish and meat products and is also available in oral supplement format. Studies have shown that niacin intake may help to increase HDL (good) cholesterol and moderately decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol. It can also help to reduce triglycerides.
The downside: While a high Niacin intake may lower LDL cholesterol, an excess consumption is needed to have the health benefit. This high dosage can come with some negative side effects. The most notable side effects are flushing, liver damage, gastrointestinal problems, and increased insulin resistance that leads to glucose intolerance. In addition, this supplement does not have any cholesterol reduction health claim approved by regulatory bodies such as Health Canada, FDA or EFSA. This means that there is not enough scientific evidence to relate niacin intake and a healthy heart.
Phytosterols (Plant Sterol and Stanol Esters) are naturally occurring compounds found in the cell walls of plants. They have been proven to lower both LDL and total cholesterol by partially inhibiting the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine. A dosage of 2 grams per day is required for individuals to see the lowering cholesterol effect. Phytosterols are basically the plant equivalent of our body’s cholesterol. In fact, we naturally consume phytosterols in fruits, vegetables, and plant-based products we eat as part of our normal diets.
The downside: While studies have proven phytosterols can reduce LDL cholesterol levels, at very high dosage/concentration they have also been linked to an increased risk of premature atherosclerosis. So, while they may lower your cholesterol, they may not be effective at reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke. Human studies have shown mixed results and therefore more research is required to better understand the hypothesis that plant sterols might be an additional risk factor for cardiovascular hearth disease. Many manufactures of phytosterol supplements also use chemicals and solvents in their extraction processes, so be sure to check the labels of any products you are considering.
Psyllium has long been known to help promote regularity and improve overall gut health. It has also been proven to modestly lower LDL cholesterol. Like barley beta-glucan, psyllium fiber helps to contribute to improving your overall health.
The downside: A large daily dose of psyllium fiber must be consumed in order to see an impact on your LDL cholesterol levels, and its high viscosity and thickness makes it challenging to use because the risk of choking. The best results are found when an individual takes over 7g of psyllium fiber per day. In contrast, only 3g of beta-glucan fiber needs to be taken in order to achieve a reasonable reduction in an individual's LDL and total cholesterol levels.
Why is this a problem? Psyllium is primarily known as a fiber to increase gut health and increase regularity. By increasing your dosage to get the cholesterol lowering benefits, you may be consuming too much fiber and experience discomfort and/or gastrointestinal irregularities.
Based on the research, barley beta-glucan is the most effective supplement to naturally lower your cholesterol. Barley beta-glucan has been carefully studied and its health benefits have been reported in an extensive number of scientific journals. Therefore, there is enough scientific evidence to claim a lowering cholesterol effect when consuming this natural fibre. While historically the fiber extraction process has been too expensive, advancements in cereal extraction technology have made this premium and novel supplement a viable option for anyone looking to naturally lower their cholesterol.
We hope this information helps you to narrow down which supplements might be right for your own situation.
Remember to always consult your physician before adding any supplements to your diet!