An elevated level of LDL cholesterol in your blood is the leading cause of atherosclerosis – a dangerous condition where a build-up of cholesterol in the walls of your arteries starts to impede blood flow and which can form obstructions that cause strokes or heart attacks.
What’s worse is that more than 100 million U.S. adults over 20 have elevated levels of cholesterol, and 35 million have high cholesterol levels which put them at great risk of heart disease. Despite that, high levels of LDL cholesterol do not happen overnight but gradually due to genetics and/or lifestyle choices.
A measured blood test is the only way to keep track of LDL levels in the blood, but there’s no magic number or a cut-off point where a level above is dangerous and a level below is safe. With that in mind, it’s important to reduce your risk of developing heart disease by keeping LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol down and finding ways to boost levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.
Since high cholesterol levels are related to genetics and lifestyle choices, it’s obvious that correcting your diet and general habits should be the first line of defense. And while we cannot change our genes and predisposition to certain health conditions, we can make better choices and significantly lower risks.
Start Exercising Regularly
Regular exercise helps lower LDL cholesterol by up to 10%, and can also boost LDL cholesterol by up to 6%, according to some studies.  Moreover, a high-intensity aerobic exercise routine can be the best choice for faster weight loss. However, activities like gardening, dancing, taking the stairs more often, and walking will also help people who cannot go to the gym regularly.
Quit Smoking Tobacco
Besides smoking elevating the risk of cardiovascular disease,  it also negatively affects HDL levels in your blood  Cigarette smoke also damages blood vessel walls which makes them more prone to fat accumulation. If you’ve tried to quit before and failed, you should consult a doctor to help you find the best strategy and smoking cessation aids.
Eat the Right Fats
Some people may think that all fats in your diet are bad, but that’s simply not true. Choosing healthy fats in your diet and being moderate about is crucial for keeping a healthy weight and BMI while lowering high levels of LDL cholesterol.
Saturated fats found in animal products and butter raise LDL levels, while trans fats from hydrogenated oils which are found in fried and baked foods also lower HDL levels. Furthermore, polyunsaturated fats, a form of unsaturated fatty acids, equally reduce HDL and LDL. Vegetable oils such as sunflower, cottonseed, and soy oil, are all a good source of polyunsaturated fats. Also important to note is that olive oil and nuts in general, which contain monounsaturated fats, reduce LDL but do not negatively affect HDL levels.
Include More Fiber
Adding more fiber, especially the soluble kind, is incredibly effective at combating high LDL results. Fiber produces short-chain fatty acids that inhibit cholesterol production, besides reducing the absorption of dietary sources of cholesterol. This, in turn, makes the liver use more cholesterol from your blood by way of LDL receptors to produce the bile acids necessary for the digestion of food. Beans, peas, barley oats, carrots, apples, and psyllium husks are all good sources of fiber.
Consume Fewer Carbs
Carbohydrates fuel your body, but high glycemic index foods can elevate blood sugar levels and make your body convert them into triglycerides that eventually turn into LDL cholesterol. Eating things like whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, and whole grains is the best way to keep blood glucose levels in check, while white rice and pastries are best avoided.
Reduce Stress Levels
High levels of stress can cause elevated cholesterol in certain individuals. While stress hormone cortisol helps regulate the metabolization of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, high levels of cortisol due to stress tend to cause an increase in triglycerides and LDL cholesterol as a result. To combat stress, it’s best to exercise regularly and try meditation or other relaxation techniques.
Use Cholesterol Medicine
If high cholesterol levels cannot be reduced by lifestyle modifications like diet, medication may be your only choice to get into a safe range. Fortunately, drugs like statins prevent cholesterol production instead of just hindering absorption through your food and GI tract.
Other drugs that treat high cholesterol include niacin, fibrates, and cholesterol absorption inhibitors, some of which can work in combination to lower LDL and raise HDL levels. But it’s important to talk to your doctor first and not use any of these medications without professional guidance.
- “Atherosclerosis,” Healthline, Janelle Martel, 31 May, 2019,
- “September is National Cholesterol Education Month,” CDC,
- “Differential effects of aerobic exercise, resistance training and combined exercise modalities on cholesterol and lipid profile,” Springer Link, 31 October, 2013,
- “Smoking and cardiovascular disease,” CDC,