Cholesterol is a fatty substance made in the liver. It is vital for the normal functioning of the body, but having too much of it in the blood can lead to heart disease. People who have high cholesterol are advised to make changes to their diet in order to lower the level of cholesterol in the blood. If patients struggle to make appropriate dietary changes or the dietary changes they make don’t help, they may be prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication. The most common medication for high cholesterol is statins. Statins block the enzymes in the liver that help to make cholesterol, leading to a reduction in cholesterol levels.
However, statins can have undesirable side effects like headaches, muscle pain and stomach problems.
Statins will only be prescribed to patients who continue to be at high risk of heart disease, according to the NHS, so making efforts to lower cholesterol via dietary changes is essential.
Express.co.uk spoke to LloydsPharmacy pharmacist Pareena Patel, who recommends two particular dietary supplements for lowering cholesterol.
Plant stanols and sterols
Stanols and sterols are plant chemicals that have a similar structure to cholesterol. They are absorbed from the intestines into the blood stream and block some cholesterol from being absorbed, in turn lowering the cholesterol in your blood.
Plant stanols and sterols can be found in foods including vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, but not in high enough quantities to lower cholesterol levels.
Because it is not possible to get enough plant stanols and sterols from an everyday diet, specialist ranges of dairy foods such as margarines and yoghurt drinks have been fortified with them to help lower cholesterol levels.
“Most diets provide a small amount, however people who have high cholesterol levels may benefit from increasing their intake by eating foods that have added fortified plant stanols,” said Patel.
“A certain amount of plant stanols and sterols must be consumed each day for the desired effect to be achieved – specifically between 1.5 and 3.0g.
“Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the amounts you should consume each day.”
Beta-glucan is a type of fibre that forms a gel which binds to cholesterol in the intestines. This helps limit the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed from the gut into the blood.
“Beta-glucans help to lower cholesterol levels by slowing food transit in the intestine, so the body takes longer to digest food. This means that cholesterol isn’t absorbed as quickly,” said Patel.
Beta-glucan can be found in foods such as oats and barley, but it can also be taken as a supplement.
“Lifestyle and dietary changes should always be the first step in the management of high blood cholesterol,” said Benecol nutritionist Sarah Franciosi.
“Making some simple dietary changes such as replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat, eating more fibre, and introducing products with added plant stanols can all help to bring cholesterol levels back to within a normal healthy target range.”