Cholesterol-lowering supplements may be helpful

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 started exercising and eating healthier foods, you might wonder if taking a cholesterol-lowering supplement can help reduce your numbers. Although few natural products are known 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 (LDL, cholesterol May cause gas or an allergic reaction, especially in those who are allergic to ragweed
Barley May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol Generally well-tolerated; might cause an allergic reaction
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 iron
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)
Flaxseed, ground May reduce LDL cholesterol May cause gas, bloating or diarrhea; may interact with some blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix) and warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven)
Green tea or green tea extract May lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides May cause nausea, vomiting, gas or diarrhea; may interact with blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven)
Niacin May lower LDL cholesterol and improve HDL May cause headache, nausea, vomiting, itching and flushing, which are more common at prescription levels
Oat bran (found in oatmeal and whole oats) May reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol May cause gas or bloating
Plant stanols, lecithin-emulsified (found in some products, such as Minute Maid Heart Wise orange juice and Rice Dream Heartwise Rice Drink) 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
Soy protein (found in soy milk, tofu, textured soy protein) as a substitute for other high-fat protein sources May reduce LDL May cause constipation, diarrhea, bloating, nausea and allergic reactions

Red yeast rice might be dangerous

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 might be ineffective

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.

Medications might be necessary

Sometimes, despite making healthy lifestyle choices and taking supplements and using 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 continuing to focus on a healthy lifestyle.

Be sure to tell your doctor if you decide to take a supplement. The supplement you choose might interact with other medications you take.

Nov. 20, 2018 See more In-depth