There’s good news on cholesterol: Americans have been doing an admirable job of lowering our overall levels of the artery-clogger.
Between 2005 and 2016, the average level of “bad” LDL cholesterol dropped 21 points among people taking cholesterol medications.
But before you bust out the sausage-and-cheese biscuits, note that nearly 25 million US adults still have total cholesterol levels above the safe limit — and about 7% of children and teenagers also have high total cholesterol, too.
That leaves them at high risk for heart attacks, stroke and heart disease.
In addition to prescription medications — including statins, bile acid sequestrants and others — there are some supplements that may help lower cholesterol levels.
Red yeast rice
Red yeast rice is an herbal supplement that combines rice with a type of yeast that grows on rice plants. The mixture, used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, contains a powerful statin known as monacolin K.
As it turns out, monacolin K is “a chemical identical to the active ingredient in cholesterol-lowering statins. This compound can effectively reduce LDL cholesterol and lower total cholesterol levels,” Dr. Lisa R. Young, adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University, told The Post.
“However, it’s important to note that the actual monacolin K content can vary significantly among products,” added Young, author of “Finally Full, Finally Slim” and “The Portion Teller Plan.”
Red yeast rice is generally considered safe, but it can have the same side effects as prescription statin drugs, including stomach discomfort, heartburn, gas and headache, according to the Mayo Clinic.
And people who are taking a prescription statin should avoid red yeast rice because high doses of statins can cause severe side effects, such as liver damage and kidney failure.
An extract from the leaves of artichokes contains a compound called cynarin, which is believed to increase bile production and speed the flow of bile from the gallbladder.
Together, those actions may help clear cholesterol from your body, according to Healthline.
There’s also some evidence that artichoke leaf extract might help to limit how much cholesterol your body produces. A 2018 meta-analysis of nine studies concluded that “supplementation with artichoke extract was associated with a significant reduction in both total and LDL-C, and triglycerides.”
Plant sterols or phytosterols — compounds found in whole grains and some vegetables, fruits and vegetable oils — can lower cholesterol levels, especially if you eat them as part of a healthy diet low in fat and cholesterol, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Studies have revealed that a diet with 2 grams of phytosterols daily is linked to a 10% lower LDL cholesterol level. Phytosterols can also benefit people taking statins or ezetimibe, a cholesterol-lowering drug.
Plant sterols may be especially helpful in people with a genetic condition that causes high cholesterol (familial hypercholesterolemia). Phytosterols can be found in some margarine spreads and salad dressings, as well as supplement capsules.
Long a staple of bodybuilding regimens, research has shown that whey protein supplements are also effective at lowering LDL and total cholesterol levels, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you choose to try a whey protein supplement — often added to drinks as a powder — choose one that lists whey protein as its only ingredient, so you can avoid things like sugar or other potentially harmful or fattening additives.
Fiber supplements can take many forms: psyllium, methylcellulose, wheat dextrin and calcium polycarbophil, for example.
Psyllium, for example, is derived from the plantago ovata plant. It’s usually available as a capsule or a powder to stir into drinks or food.
Taking psyllium regularly has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. The supplement can also relieve constipation and lower blood sugar in people with diabetes.
Perhaps better known as vitamin B3, niacin is sometimes recommended as a treatment for patients with high cholesterol or heart concerns.
The supplement increases the level of “good” HDL cholesterol and reduces triglycerides, a fat that can also clog arteries.
Doctors often warn their patients that niacin in high doses can cause itching and flushing — these side effects are more common at the higher doses usually needed to have an effect on cholesterol.
Flaxseed is derived from a flowering plant, Linum usitatissimum, which grows in temperate regions worldwide.
Flaxseed is high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains 2 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids (including the omega 3s), plus 2 grams of dietary fiber, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Experts advise that flaxseed is best used in its oil or ground form — not whole —because our bodies can’t break down the outer shell of the whole seed.
Consult your health care provider
Experts recommend that people with high cholesterol not rely on any single product — whether prescription medications or herbal supplements — to manage their cholesterol.
“Statin prescriptions are effective in reducing LDL cholesterol levels and are commonly recommended by health care professionals for individuals with high cholesterol to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes,” Young told The Post.
“However, statin prescriptions alone are not sufficient: Lifestyle changes, including adopting a healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats, and high in soluble fiber, are essential,” she added.
“If individuals consider cholesterol-lowering supplements, they should also be cautious of side effects like gas and bloating, and be aware that some may interact with blood-thinning medications.
“Consulting a health care professional for medication recommendations to address high cholesterol and improve overall health is crucial,” Young said.