Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is required by the body for the production of healthy cells, certain hormones, cell membranes, vitamin D, and bile acids. It is also required for other bodily functions as well. But for all such functions, only a limited amount of cholesterol is required. But several factors, particularly diet and lifestyle may cause cholesterol levels to rise, eventually increasing the risk of many heart problems. When cholesterol levels are too high, hard fatty deposits (plaque) start forming in the arteries. With time, these deposits narrow the arteries and keep blood from flowing properly to the heart. Eventually a plaque may rupture and a blood clot may form at the site of the rupture. And this blood clot can completely block an artery depriving the heart of enough oxygen thus causing a heart attack. In some cases, a blood clot may break off and reach a brain artery and reduce or stop the blood flow. This causes stroke, a life-threatening problem.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) are the two main types of cholesterol found in the body. LDL is known as the 'bad' cholesterol as it is responsible for forming plaques in the arteries. HDL is the 'good' cholesterol because it essentially carries excess cholesterol back to the liver where it can be broken down or eliminated from the body. So essentially LDL levels must be lower than HDL levels in order to reduce the risk of heart diseases.

How to Reduce Cholesterol Levels Without Drugs

Lowering cholesterol with the help of natural methods is specially beneficial for people who are not recommended to take certain kinds of drugs because of their age, medical history or the like. When combined with regular exercise, such natural methods are more than just efficient in bringing down cholesterol levels by a significant amount.

# Include fiber rich foods in your diet. Fiber, particularly soluble fiber acts as a sponge in the body and absorbs cholesterol. Fruits and vegetables, and whole grain products are rich sources of fiber. Some good sources of this nutrient include:

• Almonds
• Apple, with skin
• Apples
• Artichoke, cooked
• Avocados
• Baked beans
• Banana
• Barley
• Beans
• Bran flakes
• Bread, rye
• Bread
• Broccoli, boiled
• Brown rice, cooked
• Brussels sprouts, cooked
• Carrot, raw
• Chili peppers
• Figs, dried
• Flax seed
• Garlic
• Lentils, cooked
• Lima beans, cooked
• Oat bran
• Oatmeal
• Olive oil
• Onions
• Orange
• Pear, with skin
• Peas, cooked
• Pecans
• Pistachio nuts
• Popcorn, air-popped
• Potato, with skin, baked
• Raisins
• Raspberries
• Shiitake mushrooms
• Soy beans
• Spaghetti
• Split peas, cooked
• Strawberries
• Sunflower seed kernels
• Sweet corn, cooked
• Tomato paste
• Turnip greens, boiled

# Avoid foods high in trans fats and saturated fats. These fats raise the level of LDL cholesterol in the body. Trans fats, however, do more harm. These fats not only spike LDL levels but also lower the "good" HDL cholesterol thereby increasing the risk of heart diseases significantly. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that the daily consumption of saturated fats must be less than 7% of calories taken a day, and trans fats, 1%. Avoid foods such as:

• Cookies
• Crackers
• Cakes
• Muffins
• Pie crusts
• Pizza dough
• Hamburger buns
• Butter
• Ghee
• Ice cream
• Spreads
• Sausages
• Cheese
• Chocolate
• Coconut oil
• Palm oil
• Fried foods
• Chips and crackers
• Baked goods
• Cakes and pastries
• Packaged or microwave popcorn

# Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are classified as healthy fats. Apart from improving cholesterol levels, these fats also help reduce inflammation, unsteady heart rhythm, and impart other benefits to the body. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include:

• Almonds
• Hazelnuts
• Pecans
• Olive oil
• Peanut oil
• Sunflower oil
• Canola oil
• Pumpkin seeds
• Sesame seeds
• Vegetable oils

Polyunsaturated fats can be found in plenty in food sources such as:

• Sunflower
• Corn
• Soybean
• Laxseed oil
• Walnuts
• Flax seed
• Fish
• Canola oil

# Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats which may help lower cholesterol levels to some extent. Oily fish such as salmon, albacore tuna and sardines are rich sources of these fatty acids. Other good sources include walnuts, flaxseed, kidney beans and canola oil.

# An active body is a healthy body. Regular exercise not only helps bring down LDL cholesterol, it also ups HDL cholesterol by as much as 10%. Even an exercise as simple as brisk walking everyday can do a great deal in managing high cholesterol levels, apart from imparting other health benefits. It does not matter what type of exercise you do, what is important is you doing it with regularity.

# Although the benefits of moderate alcohol in managing high cholesterol is proven, most experts decline from encouraging people to drink. This is simply because of the high risk of excessive drinking.

# Recent studies conducted in the United States show that green tea may provide natural defense against high cholesterol in the body. According to the American Diabetic Association, green tea may in fact be more effective than other treatment methods formulated to bring down "bad" cholesterol in the body.

# A high-sugar diet also contributes largely to increasing cholesterol levels according to the American Medical Association. Foods with high sugar content magnifies the risk of having low HDL cholesterol thereby increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

# Smoking is considered one of the major culprits behind abnormally high cholesterol levels in most people. Smoking lowers down HDL cholesterol levels and significantly increases the risk factors of heart disease such as diabetes and hypertension. Experts have found that as soon as a person quits smoking, his/her HDL cholesterol levels go up. If a heavy smoker quits smoking for about 15 years, his/her risk of developing heart problems would be at par with a person who never smoked.

The first line of treatment to control high cholesterol levels is a healthy diet coupled with regular exercise. But for some people merely diet and lifestyle changes may not be sufficient to lower their risk of cardiovascular diseases. So for such people, cholesterol-lowering medication may be imperative. The choice of these drugs depends on the person's age, health status, and side effects. Such medicines are formulated to bring down elevated cholesterol levels faster than lifestyle modifications. But then medicines are only an option when natural methods fail to respond.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended in any way to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.