How to reduce cholesterol

More than 100 million Americans have high cholesterol (above 200 mg/dL), which can clog arteries and cause heart attacks and strokes.

The good news is that there are a variety of time-tested strategies you can use to lower your cholesterol and decrease your risk for heart problems.

Some are better than others, some are easier, and some are cheaper. Here’s a rundown of what’s good and what’s bad about cholesterol-lowering approaches.

 

Pros: Statins include drugs such as Lipitor, Zocor, and Crestor (all the generic names end in statin), and they can lower LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol by more than 50%. “Across the board, they are clearly a wonder drug,” says Thomas Pearson, MD, PhD, the Albert D. Kaiser professor of preventive medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in Rochester, N.Y.

Cons: Side effects can be serious, including muscle inflammation and increased liver enzymes. Cost is also an issue, although several statins are available in generic form, including Lipitor, which became available as a generic at the end of 2011.

 

Pros: Niacin is a B vitamin that lowers both LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, fats that can be harmful at high levels. It also raises HDL, or “good,” cholesterol. “It’s a powerful drug,” Dr. Pearson says. It comes in tablets to be taken two or three times a day, or in an extended-release formula, which needs to be taken only once a day.

Cons: Niacin should be administered only under the care of a physician because doses high enough to affect cholesterol can increase the risk of gout and liver problems, Dr. Pearson says. People with type 2 diabetes also need to be careful, as it can raise blood sugar. Read more about niacin.