How Long Does It Take To Lower Cholesterol?
This often depends on a number of variables, including how aggressive the treatment you’re receiving is, your genetic predisposition (for example, some people’s cholesterol levels drop quickly while others don’t), and how high your cholesterol levels are to begin with.
But one thing is certain: The higher the concentration of LDL and non-HDL cholesterol in your blood, the more plaque builds up in your arteries, and the more inflammation – and damage – in your artery walls, leading to progressive blockage and weakening of your blood vessels.
That’s why it’s so important to lower LDL and non-HDL cholesterol as quickly and effectively as possible.
Happily, many people don’t need to rely on prescription drugs – and their possible side effects – to lower their cholesterol. A healthy lifestyle in itself can bring cholesterol down dramatically in just a few weeks.
The Pritikin diet and exercise program is one such lifestyle; studies of thousands of men and women who have started the Pritikin program have shown an average drop of 23% in LDL and 24% in non-HDL over a three-week period. The Pritikin education program currently reaches eligible heart patients, making it highly effective in reducing cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol.
What is the Pritikin diet?
The Pritikin diet significantly reduces saturated fatty acids (found in red meat, cheese, butter, whole milk and tropical oils such as coconut oil), trans-fatty acids (partially hydrogenated oils) and dietary cholesterol. It also increases dietary fiber, in the form of nutrient-rich natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.” “It’s the healthiest way to lower cholesterol,” says cardiologist Ronald Scheib, a physician and educator at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami who has been teaching the Pritikin program since 1975.
How high should your LDL and non-HDL levels be?
Numerous studies have shown that LDL levels above 100, even in healthy patients, can lead to harmful plaque growth. Studies have shown that LDL levels below 100 are optimal. For example, a large European study of more than 8,800 patients found that an LDL cholesterol level of 81 in heart patients was more protective of death, heart attack, and other cardiovascular diseases.
And more recently, a six-year study of 18,000 heart disease patients found that lower LDL levels were better. The study was presented at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting.3 Both groups had almost no cardiac events over the six years, but the group with the lowest LDL among the 54-year-olds was the ultimate winner. The group with the highest LDL had 6.4 percent fewer heart attacks, cardiac deaths, strokes, bypass surgeries, stents, and hospitalizations for severe chest pain compared to the group with the highest LDL.
For people without HDL, the optimal goal for people with significant heart disease symptoms is 80 or below. For healthy people who want to prevent heart disease, a good goal is 100 or less.
Will lowering cholesterol prevent heart attacks?
Not necessarily, since entering the medicine cabinets of Americans across the country in the 1990s, statins have been shown to be very effective in lowering high levels of LDL and slowing the development of cholesterol-filled plaque.” Unfortunately, however, for Americans who take statins to lower their high LDL levels, the leading cause of death remains heart attacks,” Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, LDN, one of many who teach health education and nutrition seminars at the Pritikin Longevity Center Says.
In fact, reducing the risk of heart attack is more than just lowering cholesterol levels. There are many other factors that can damage artery walls and increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
- High blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke
- Increased blood clotting
- High levels of triglycerides (fats in the blood)
- Remnants of triglycerides called VLDLs and chylomicrons, which flood the blood immediately after eating fatty foods, promote the growth of cholesterol-rich plaques.
- High levels of sensitive C-reactive protein, associated with inflammation, can weaken or destabilize plaque, leading to plaque rupture and heart attack.
- Excess weight, especially in the abdomen (belly fat)
- Stress related to anger and hostility
- Sedentary lifestyles
Statins can’t eliminate the above artery killers, but a healthy lifestyle program like the Pregene program can. Daily exercise and a good diet – rich in whole foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with less salt, less fat and less sugar or refined (“white”) carbohydrates – can provide the following benefits, which have been demonstrated in more than 100 peer-reviewed studies of the Pritikin program
- Lower LDL and non-HDL cholesterol levels
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower blood sugar (glucose) and insulin levels
- Reduction in excess fat
- Lower levels of inflammatory factors
- Lower fasting and postprandial (after meals) triglyceride levels, often associated with lower VLDL and chylomicron levels
A healthy diet and lifestyle can also enhance the effects of statins. For example, a study conducted by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that the combination of primidine and a statin was much more effective in lowering LDL cholesterol than a statin alone. Scientists followed 93 men and women who decided to come to the Pritikin Longevity Center after already taking a statin for several months and lowered their cholesterol by an average of 20 percent. After three weeks at the center, the men lowered their cholesterol by another 19 percent.
What role does genetics play in determining cholesterol levels?
In addition to environmental factors such as diet and medications, genetic factors can also influence an individual’s cholesterol levels and how those levels respond to various cholesterol-lowering strategies.
However, environmental influences may be much greater. For example, the Tarahumara Indians of northwestern Mexico have traditionally had low cholesterol levels, so it’s “in their genes. However, a study by scientists at the University of Oregon School of Health Sciences found that the cholesterol levels of the Tarahumara rose dramatically over a period of weeks.
Fortunately, the reverse is also true. According to the study, of the 4,587 people who came to the Pritikin Longevity Center, their LDL cholesterol dropped by an average of 23 percent over three weeks. The children responded well. In one study7, LDL cholesterol levels in American children dropped by 25% after two weeks of Pritikin treatment. In another study8, children followed with Pritikin had a 27% drop in LDL cholesterol, again over two weeks. All of these studies suggest that lifestyle is more important than genetics in determining cholesterol levels in most people.
The data for older American women are also intriguing. It is common for LDL cholesterol to rise 30-40 points during menopause and after menopause, but the study shows the opposite at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
How long does it take to lower cholesterol? In most cases, it takes a few weeks. If your doctor recommends that you take a statin or other cholesterol-lowering medication, continue to do so.