Diet Beats Meds for Lowering Cholesterol

A new study shows how to naturally lower your cholesterol. (Hint: It's more than just Cheerios.)

If you have high cholesterol, take a look at this Canadian study before considering a statin regimen. University of Toronto researcher Dr. David Jenkins found that participants who followed a special cholesterol-lowering diet saw decreases in overall and LDL cholesterol over a six-month period—without the help of meds.

The 351 dieters received only a one-hour counseling session with a nutritionist at the start of the study, with a 30-minute follow-up later on. At the initial session, they were advised to follow either a low-fat vegetarian diet or the new cholesterol-lowering diet, which included cutting out meats and eating more soy protein—think soy milk, tofu—as well as beans, fruits, nuts, lentils, and whole grains.

Both groups saw equal weight loss, about four pounds. The cholesterol levels of those in the vegetarian group improved moderately: On average, the overall level decreased from 249 to 246, and LDL dropped from 167 to 161. But the cholesterol-lowering dieters saw much bigger results: Total cholesterol tumbled from 256 to 230, while LDL levels fell from 173 to 148.

These findings come on the heels of an article in Newsweek’s latest issue, detailing how many of the preventative tests and medications touted by doctors can be ineffective, and sometimes downright harmful.

“Statins, common cholesterol-reducing drugs, may also not benefit some people who are taking them. Statins are proved to help people with both heart disease and high cholesterol, but not those with just high cholesterol,” writes reporter Sharon Begley. Yet they are still commonly prescribed for people without heart disease, despite the risks and side effects that include everything from rashes to liver and digestive problems to severe muscle damage.

So if you’re dealing with high cholesterol, you might want to think twice before going on a statin—or at least talk to your doctor about dietary measures first. And who knows? Maybe you’ll like the more natural route; soy protein, trail mix and whole grains have their perks.