Diet and exercise are proven ways to reduce cholesterol. Cholesterol-lowering supplements may help, too.

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 proved to improve cholesterol levels, some might be helpful. With your doctor's OK, consider these cholesterol-improving supplements and products.

Cholesterol-lowering supplement What it might do Side effects and drug interactions
Artichoke extract May reduce total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad," cholesterol
May cause gas or an allergic reaction, especially in those who are allergic to ragweed
Barley May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol None
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; can reduce absorption of some nutrients, such as calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin B-12
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, Jantoven, others)
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, Jantoven, others) 
Green tea extract May lower LDL cholesterol May cause nausea, vomiting, gas or diarrhea; may interact with blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven, others)
Niacin May lower LDL cholesterol, improve high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol May cause headache, nausea, vomiting, itching and flushing
Oat bran (found in oatmeal and whole oats) May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol May cause gas or bloating
Plant stanols (found in oral supplements and some margarines, such as Benecol) May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol May cause diarrhea
Plant sterols (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
Soy protein as a substitute for other high-fat protein sources May reduce LDL None
Whey protein May reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides May cause nausea, constipation, diarrhea or gas

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 red yeast rice products is potentially dangerous because there's no way to know how much lovastatin might be in a particular product. And there's no way to determine the quality of the lovastatin.

Garlic is one of the best-known supplements for reducing cholesterol. Earlier studies on garlic produced conflicting results, but some indicated that garlic might lower cholesterol. However, more recent research has shown no evidence of cholesterol-lowering benefits.

Sometimes, despite making healthy lifestyle choices and taking supplements and other cholesterol-lowering products, you still need help lowering your cholesterol levels. 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 a supplement. The supplement you choose might interact with other medications you take.

Oct. 03, 2015