Cholesterol-lowering supplements: Lower your numbers without prescription medication

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you're worried about your cholesterol level and have already started exercising and eating healthier foods, you might wonder if adding a cholesterol-lowering supplement to your diet can help reduce your numbers. Although few natural products have been proven to reduce cholesterol, some might be helpful. With your doctor's OK, consider these cholesterol-lowering supplements and products.

Cholesterol-lowering supplementWhat it doesSide effects and drug interactions
Artichoke extract May reduce total cholesterol and LDL, or "bad," cholesterol May cause gas or an allergic reaction
Barley May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol None
Beta-sitosterol (found in oral supplements and some margarines, such as Promise Activ) May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol

May cause nausea, indigestion, gas, diarrhea or constipation

May be ineffective if you take ezetimibe (Zetia), a prescription cholesterol medication

Blond psyllium (found in seed husk and products such as Metamucil) May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol May cause gas, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation or nausea
Fish oil (found as a liquid oil and in oil-filled capsules) May reduce triglycerides

May cause a fishy aftertaste, bad breath, gas, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

May interact with some blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin)

Flaxseed, ground May reduce triglycerides

May cause, gas, bloating or diarrhea

May interact with some blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix) and warfarin (Coumadin)

Garlic extract May reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides

May cause bad breath, body odor, heartburn, gas, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

May interact with blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin)

Green tea extract May lower LDL cholesterol

May cause nausea, vomiting, gas or diarrhea

May interact with blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin)

Oat bran (found in oatmeal and whole oats) May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol May cause gas or bloating
Sitostanol (found in oral supplements and some margarines, such as Benecol) May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol May cause diarrhea

Another popular cholesterol-lowering supplement is red yeast rice. There is some evidence that red yeast rice can help lower your LDL cholesterol. However, the Food and Drug Administration has warned that red yeast rice products could contain a naturally occurring form of the prescription medication known as lovastatin. Lovastatin in the red yeast rice products in question is potentially dangerous because there's no way for you to know what level or quality of lovastatin might be in red yeast rice.

Sometimes healthy lifestyle choices, including supplements and other cholesterol-lowering products, aren't enough. If your doctor prescribes medication to reduce your cholesterol, take it as directed while you continue to focus on a healthy lifestyle. As always, be sure to tell your doctor if you decide to take an herbal supplement. The herbal supplement you take may interact with other medications you take.

Dec. 05, 2012 See more In-depth