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How Long Does It Take to Lower Cholesterol?

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedFebruary 29, 2024

About 86 million adults in the US aged 20 or older have high cholesterol. High cholesterol can lead to the buildup of artery-clogging plaque, increasing the risk of heart disease.

According to research, a 5-10% decrease in body weight can significantly influence reducing total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

In this article, you will learn what cholesterol is, how long it takes to lower cholesterol, and the factors and lifestyle changes that can help lower cholesterol.

🔑 Key Takeaways:

  • Lowering cholesterol varies for each person due to genetics, current levels, and lifestyle choices.
  • Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle is a crucial starting point. This process may take several months before noticeable changes occur.
  • Statins can help lower levels in weeks to months, but use them under a doctor's guidance for high cholesterol or health risks.
  • Losing excess weight, even a modest amount, can substantially impact cholesterol levels. The pace at which cholesterol levels decrease is influenced by the amount of weight lost and the speed at which it is accomplished.
  • Lowering cholesterol is a gradual process that requires patience and persistence. Consistently following a heart-healthy lifestyle and treatment plan is vital for long-term cardiovascular health.
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Understanding Cholesterol

Cholesterol, a lipid resembling wax is present in your body's cells and the foods you consume. It's essential for the body's normal functions and is a key component of cell membranes, helping keep them strong and flexible.

Cholesterol is a precursor for synthesizing essential molecules like hormones (such as estrogen and testosterone), and vitamin D.

Cholesterol moves through your bloodstream with the help of lipoproteins, which are made up of fats and proteins. Two main lipoproteins transport cholesterol are:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): LDL-C, often labeled as "bad cholesterol," can potentially foster plaque accumulation in arteries, ultimately increasing the risk of atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL): HDL-C, or "good cholesterol," removes cholesterol from the bloodstream by transporting it back to the liver for excretion. HDL-C prevents plaque buildup in the arteries, reducing the risk of heart disease.

Cholesterol's Function In The Body

Cholesterol is a vital lipid molecule present in the body and plays various important roles. Its levels in the bloodstream can significantly impact the risk of heart disease. However, cholesterol's functions in the body are not limited to the heart. Here are some of the critical roles of cholesterol in the body:

  • Structural Component: Cholesterol is an integral part of cell membranes, where it helps maintain their fluidity and structural integrity. Without cholesterol, cells would be less stable and more prone to damage.
  • Hormone Production: Cholesterol is a precursor for synthesizing several important hormones, including cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone. These hormones are vital for regulating various physiological processes in the body.
  • Vitamin D Synthesis: Cholesterol produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is vital in preserving bone health and bolstering the immune system.

Cholesterol's Role in Heart Health Issues

Elevated LDL cholesterol levels can result in the development of fatty deposits within the arteries, commonly referred to as plaques. These plaques have the potential to constrict and toughen the arteries, leading to a condition known as atherosclerosis, a significant risk factor for heart disease.

Here's how cholesterol contributes to heart health issues:

  • Atherosclerosis: A surplus of LDL cholesterol can amass within artery walls, leading to atherosclerotic plaques. These plaques have the potential to constrict blood flow to the heart muscle, elevating the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases.
  • High Blood Pressure: The accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries can contribute to elevated blood pressure, known as hypertension, another risk factor for heart disease. Hypertension places additional strain on the heart and heightens the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes.
  • Blood Clots: Plaques have the potential to rupture, initiating the formation of blood clots that may obstruct arteries, leading to heart attacks or strokes.

How Long Does It Take to Lower Cholesterol?

The duration required to reduce cholesterol levels can greatly differ from one individual to another. It hinges on diet, lifestyle adjustments, genetics, and the initial cholesterol level.

Typically, it may take weeks to months to see significant changes in cholesterol levels. Here's a breakdown of the timeline for lowering cholesterol:

1. Dietary Changes

Making dietary and lifestyle changes can improve cholesterol levels over time. This typically involves reducing saturated and trans fats, increasing dietary fiber, and maintaining a healthy weight.

A study found that adopting a new lifestyle can significantly improve cholesterol levels in six weeks. The study reported a decrease of 40.25% in total cholesterol and a decrease of 52.8% in low-density lipid (LDL) cholesterol without using cholesterol-lowering drugs.

2. Exercise

Incorporating regular physical activities like brisk walking, jogging, or swimming into your routine can positively impact your cholesterol levels. Through consistent exercise, elevating your HDL (good) cholesterol levels and lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol can lead to visible enhancements in just a few months.

According to a study, participants who underwent a 6-month aerobic exercise training program, where the intensity was increased from 50% to 85% of maximum aerobic power for 20-60 minutes three times a week, showed a statistically significant reduction in their total cholesterol levels.

3. Medications

Suppose your healthcare provider prescribes cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins or other drugs. In that case, you may see a reduction in LDL cholesterol levels within a few weeks to a few months. The specific time frame may differ depending on the medication and how an individual responds.

Here's more brief information on medications and their influence on cholesterol reduction:

  • Statins: These are frequently prescribed medications that hinder the liver's production of LDL cholesterol. Statin use reduces LDL cholesterol by 30-63%. Atorvastatin, a type of statin, has a rapid onset of action with about 90% of the LDL cholesterol reduction occurring within the first 2 weeks of treatment.
  • Bile Acid Sequestrants: Patients who tolerate full doses can see a 15-30% reduction in LDL-C with these drugs.
  • Ezetimibe (Zetia): This medication can be taken alone or with other cholesterol-lowering drugs to decrease cholesterol absorption from the digestive tract. Ezetimibe is known to reduce LDL levels by 13-20%.
  • PCSK9 Inhibitors: These newer medications reduce LDL cholesterol levels by 50-60% by targeting a specific protein in the liver that regulates LDL receptor recycling.
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3): Niacin can raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol by 10-25% when taken in higher doses, but it may have side effects and is used less frequently today.

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4. Weight Loss

Losing excess weight can substantially impact your cholesterol levels, particularly if you carry extra pounds or are in the overweight or obese categories. Even shedding a modest amount of weight can bring about significant improvements.

The pace at which your cholesterol levels decrease is determined by the amount of weight you need to lose and the speed at which you accomplish it.

5. Genetics

While making lifestyle changes is an effective way to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, genetics can sometimes make it difficult to manage high cholesterol. In these cases, simply changing one's diet or increasing physical activity may not be enough to lower cholesterol levels to a healthy range.

In such instances, long-term cholesterol-lowering medications may need to be taken to effectively manage cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips for Lowering Cholesterol

According to the CDC, a healthy lifestyle can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

A meta-analysis of three randomized controlled trials found that a 15-20% reduction in cholesterol was due to decreased dietary cholesterol intake.

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Below are some effective lifestyle changes that can help lower cholesterol:

  • Dietary Modifications: Eat healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Avoid saturated and trans fats in red meat, full-fat dairy, and fried and processed foods. Increase fiber intake with oats, beans, fruits, and vegetables to lower harmful cholesterol levels. Maintaining a healthy weight can positively impact cholesterol levels.
  • Regular Physical Activity: Strive for 150 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly, boosting HDL and lowering LDL cholesterol.
  • Quit Smoking: Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol and damages blood vessels. Giving up smoking can enhance your overall cardiovascular well-being.
  • Limit Alcohol Consumption: If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation. For men, this typically means up to two drinks per day, and for women, one drink per day. Excessive alcohol can raise triglyceride levels
  • Manage Stress: Chronic stress may contribute to unhealthy lifestyle choices—practice stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.
  • Medication, if Necessary: In some cases, lifestyle changes alone may not be sufficient to lower cholesterol to target levels. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help manage your cholesterol.

Wrap-up

Lowering cholesterol takes time and depends on the approach and individual conditions. Diet and exercise changes can show results in weeks to months. Results vary, but long-term adherence is critical to success. Cholesterol-lowering meds work quickly, often reducing levels in weeks to months. Combo therapy can help stubborn cases.

However, it's essential to recognize that cholesterol management is not a one-time effort; it's a lifelong commitment. Regular monitoring, ongoing adjustments, and healthcare professionals' guidance are essential for achieving and maintaining optimal cholesterol levels and overall cardiovascular health.

FAQs About Lowering Cholesterol

How to lower cholesterol on the keto diet?

To lower cholesterol on keto, choose healthy fats like avocados and nuts, lean proteins like poultry and fish, fiber-rich veggies, and low-carb sources like flaxseeds, and limit cholesterol-rich foods like egg yolks and organ meats.

How to lower cholesterol and blood sugar?

Try a balanced diet with controlled carbs and fiber-rich veggies to improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Regular exercise can also help, as well as medication prescribed by your healthcare provider.

How long does it take to lower cholesterol with diet?

A heart-healthy diet can lower cholesterol within a few weeks to months, but personalized guidance from a healthcare provider is essential.

How to lower LDL cholesterol naturally?

You can lower LDL cholesterol naturally by adopting a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Do eggs cause high cholesterol?

Eating eggs in moderation typically won't raise cholesterol for most, but those concerned should consult a healthcare professional.

How many peanuts a day to lower cholesterol?

There is no specific daily recommendation for the number of peanuts to lower cholesterol. However, a small portion (around 1-2 ounces) of unsalted, plain peanuts as part of a heart-healthy diet may help manage cholesterol.

Can one meal affect a cholesterol test?

Yes, a single meal, especially one high in saturated fats, can temporarily elevate cholesterol levels, so fasting before a cholesterol test is often recommended for more accurate results.

Does coffee affect your cholesterol?

Moderate coffee consumption is generally not associated with significantly impacting cholesterol levels, but adding high-fat creamers or excessive sugar can adversely affect heart health.

How long is it safe to have high cholesterol?

Having high cholesterol for an extended period is unsafe. It increases the risk of heart disease and other health problems, so it's essential to manage it with lifestyle changes and possibly medication as advised by a healthcare professional.

Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
Virtual weight loss solution
A personalized GLP-1 medication program delivered to you via our partner Korb Health
Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
  • Free consultation; program starts at $269/mo
  • Checkmark Inside Circle.Customized online program and wellness coaching
  • Prescription medications and supplies shipped to your door