Cholesterol is a type of lipid found in the blood. The body needs cholesterol to function, but too much, or the wrong types of cholesterol can be harmful. High cholesterol levels can lead to atherosclerosis or the hardening of the arteries, and this is a major cause of heart disease, stroke, and other health problems.

You may be wondering how long it takes to lower cholesterol levels. The answer depends on a few factors, including your starting point, and what lifestyle changes you make. Making healthy lifestyle choices is the best way to lower cholesterol and improve overall health. These changes include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking. If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may also recommend medication.  Another thing that we, at Index Health, find to be extremely valuable is a detailed understanding of a person’s genetic background.  With this knowledge, we are able to create precise lifestyle and nutrition plans that can maximize the impact we see across basic and advanced cholesterol markers.  

These lifestyle changes can lower your cholesterol markers by up to 30% within three months. In most cases, it takes about six months to see the full effect of these changes on cholesterol levels. In other situations, it may take longer, depending on how high your cholesterol levels are at the start and how many risk factors you have. Don't get discouraged, even if it takes a little longer to lower your cholesterol. These changes are good for your overall health, even if they don't immediately affect your cholesterol levels.

When Are Cholesterol Levels too High?

Cholesterol is a precursor for synthesizing bile acids, steroid hormones, and vitamin D. The liver produces most of the cholesterol in the body. The liver synthesizes cholesterol from fatty acids and other substances. In addition to synthesizing cholesterol, the liver also packages it into lipoproteins (low-density lipoprotein [LDL], high-density lipoprotein [HDL], and very-low-density lipoprotein [VLDL]) and secretes them into circulation.

Dietary cholesterol is found only in animal foods such as meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, and dairy products. The human body can make all the cholesterol it needs, so we do not need to consume dietary cholesterol.

Cholesterol is essential for life, but too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to heart disease. When there is more LDL cholesterol than the liver can remove from circulation, it accumulates in the arteries walls, narrowing or blocking them. This process is called atherosclerosis and can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

HDL cholesterol helps keep LDL cholesterol from building up in arteries by transporting it back to the liver, where it is broken down and excreted from the body. A high level of HDL (60 mg/dL or higher) is protective against heart disease, while a low level of HDL (less than 40 mg/dL) is a risk factor.

There are several things you can do to lower your cholesterol:

  • Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limits saturated and trans fats.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Consider evaluating your genomics for unique insights/guidance.
  • In some scenarios, you may need to discuss if a cholesterol-lowering medication is appropriate.

Most people with high cholesterol have no symptoms. The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is to get your blood tested by a healthcare professional.

What is LDL cholesterol?

You might be surprised to learn that you can lower your cholesterol levels in as little as two weeks. High cholesterol is a serious problem because it leads to heart disease, and the good news is that there are things you can do to lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease. Let's talk more about LDL cholesterol and how you can lower your LDL cholesterol levels.

LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. LDL cholesterol is the "bad" kind of cholesterol because it is a buildup in the arteries and leads to heart disease. A high level of LDL cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease.

There are no symptoms of high LDL cholesterol levels. The only way to know if you have high LDL cholesterol is to get a blood test, which can also tell you how much LDL cholesterol you have.

You can lower your LDL cholesterol levels by changing your diet and lifestyle. Eating foods lower in saturated fat and sugar  can often reduce your LDL cholesterol levels. Regular exercise and losing weight if you are overweight can also help lower your LDL cholesterol levels. If these lifestyle changes aren't enough, your doctor may prescribe medication to help lower your LDL cholesterol levels.  It is important to note that while just focusing on LDL numbers was the common practice previously, we now know that it doesn’t tell the whole story. We find that it is far more valuable to consider more advanced markers, such as LDL particle number, ApoB, myeloperoxidase, ADMA/SDMA, hsCRP, and Lp-PLA2 activity, amongst others.

How to control your intake of saturated fats.

Knowing the saturated fat content in dairy and other foods is important. Saturated fats can raise cholesterol levels, and you should limit saturated fats to seven percent of your total daily calories.

You can find saturated fat listed on a food's Nutrition Facts label. The label will also show you how many grams of saturated fat are in one food serving.

For example, if a portion of food has two grams (g) of saturated fat per serving, and you eat four servings, you would be getting eight grams of saturated fat. This may be  too much-saturated fat for one day, for some people, and they would want to look for foods with lower amounts of saturated fat per serving.

Some saturated fats, such as butter, lard, and shortening, are solid at room temperature. Other saturated fats are liquid oils, such as palm oil and coconut oil. You can also get saturated fat from animal products, such as beef, pork, poultry, and lamb. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and ice cream contain saturated fat.

You don't have to eliminate all saturated fat from your diet; just be sure to limit how much you eat to help keep your cholesterol levels under control. Eating a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do for your heart health. Exercise and not smoking can help reduce your heart disease and stroke risk.

Healthy Lifestyle Changes You Need to Make

It is important to remember that cholesterol levels can be lowered differently for each individual. What works best depends on the person's unique circumstances, such as age, health conditions, genetics, and lifestyle choices. Diet and exercise changes are typically the best place to start when looking to lower cholesterol.

Cutting out fatty foods and increasing the intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products can help lower cholesterol levels. It is also important to get enough soluble fiber found in oats, barley, beans, peas, lentils, apples, oranges, and pears. Getting regular physical activity is another key component to lowering cholesterol. Just 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity most days of the week can help, including activities like brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or biking. Some people may need to do more intense activities to see results.

Medication may be necessary if diet and exercise changes are not enough to lower cholesterol levels. Statins are the most common type of cholesterol-lowering medication, and these work by blocking a substance your body needs to make cholesterol. Other cholesterol-lowering medications include bile acid sequestrants, nicotinic acid, and fibric acid derivatives. Our team at Index Health find the most value by knowing the detailed advanced cholesterol marker status, then creating a personalized plan with lifestyle and nutrition changes, coupled with target professional grade supplement considerations.  Rarely, we also see a clear need for prescriptions. Work with a healthcare professional to determine which type of medication is best for you. In some cases, lifestyle changes and medication may be necessary to reach healthy cholesterol levels.