Once diagnosed with high cholesterol with a blood test, a doctor will recommend measures to better manage cholesterol levels. These range from eating a healthier diet to being prescribed medication to lower cholesterol. The treatment plan will differ depending on a person's individual cholesterol readings and their other risk factors for conditions like heart disease.
Cholesterol lifestyle changes
Diet: Cholesterol can be lowered by reducing the amount of bad fats or saturated fat eaten to no more than 30g a day for men and no more than 20g a day for women. Saturated fat is found in foods including fatty cuts of meat and meat products, butter, lard, ghee, cream, cheese, cakes, pies, crisps and biscuits. Food labels can help pinpoint the fat content of many products. As well as reducing bad fats, you may be advised to eat more good fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and tuna are good for you and may help lower triglyceride levels.
Exercise: Increasing the amount of exercise carried out can help manage cholesterol levels. The NHS recommends healthy adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. Keeping fit can also help with weight loss and reduce body mass index or BMI and reduce high blood pressure.
Smoking: If you smoke, you'll be advised to quit. Smoking can decrease the good HDL cholesterol in the body and may increase bad LDL cholesterol.
Vitamins and supplements for cholesterol
Niacin: Niacin is a type of vitamin B that is found naturally in foods. Most people get enough of this from a healthy balanced diet, but it is also available in supplements on prescription in higher doses. Niacin can help lower LDL and triglycerides and raise HDL. Niacin can cause liver damage if too much is taken over a long period of time. Another side effect is reddening of the face. Seek medical advice before taking any new supplement.
Garlic: Evidence is mixed about garlic and its benefits for managing cholesterol. Some studies suggest it can help slightly reduce levels of total cholesterol, while other research has not found it to be as beneficial. Garlic can also interfere with some medicines and prolong bleeding and affect blood clotting.
Plant stanols and sterols. Research suggests plant sterols and stanols can help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. There's some evidence cholesterol may be reduced by up to 10-15% when 2g/day is eaten or drunk regularly as part of a healthy balanced diet. Stanols and stenols can be found in specially made products, including spreads and yoghurts.
Statins: Statins are a commonly prescribed cholesterol lowering medication. These drugs work by blocking the liver's ability to produce cholesterol. Possible side effects of statins include muscle pain, stomach problems and liver problems. If one statin cannot be tolerated, a different type may be recommended.
Bile acid binders: Ezetimibe works by blocking the absorption of cholesterol from food and bile juices. This may be prescribed on its own or in combination with a statin. Possible side effects include muscle pain and stomach problems.