According to the CDC, more than 102 million American adults have higher total cholesterol levels than the healthy recommendation,and 35 million of those individuals are at significantly high risk of developing heart disease. 
That being said, balancing your cholesterol profile is an important step if you aim to improve your overall health and quality of life. There are different methods to use in order to lower your cholesterol, as often people use medication to have a quick impact on their lipid profile. However, such cholesterol maintenance medication can have adverse effects and turn out to be unsuitable for certain individuals (suffering from other health issues and chronic conditions).
This article will guide you through some of the natural methods that may help you to lower your total and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and improve your HDL (also known as good cholesterol).
Let’s get started!
- What is normal cholesterol?
- How to balance cholesterol naturally?
- Why do you need cholesterol?
What is normal cholesterol?
The recommended cholesterol levels may differ according to age, sex, and country of residence.
Before we dive into what the optimal cholesterol levels are, it’s important to know what a standard cholesterol profile includes  :
LDL (also known as bad cholesterol)
LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein and is responsible for transporting cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body (e.g., for synthesis of hormones, vitamin D production). However, when your blood has too much LDL-cholesterol, these particles can get trapped in the arterial walls and begin the formation of plaque. Plaque is the build-up that ‘clogs’ your arteries, and can lead to things such as heart attack, stroke and hypertension.
HDL (also known as good cholesterol)
HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein and is responsible for transporting excess cholesterol from your cells, tissues, and arteries to the liver, where it can be excreted out of the body. Or in other words, HDL can reduce the negative effect of excess LDL and may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and related health conditions.
Total cholesterol is the combination of LDL, HDL and additional lipids (e.g. triglycerides, which are another form of fat present in the blood).
The US official recommendations for cholesterol in the blood are different for adults and children, and are as follows  :
For individuals age 20 or older:
- LDL: Less than 100 mg/dL(milligrams per deciliter)
- HDL: At least 50 mg/dL or higher (for men HDL is ideally at least 40 mg/dL)
- Total cholesterol: from 125 to 200 mg/dL
For individuals under 20 years old:
- LDL: Less than 100 mg/dL(milligrams per deciliter)
- HDL: At least 45 mg/dL or higher
- Total cholesterol: 170 mg/dL
If you suffer from other health issues or chronic health conditions, it’s important to consult your ideal cholesterol levels with your healthcare provider and follow his/her advice.
How to balance cholesterol naturally?
Balancing your cholesterol can mean lowering your LDL, increasing your HDL, or both (depending on your diagnosis). Below you can find 6 tips on how you can support healthy cholesterol levels, without medication.
It’s important to consult your health condition with a doctor and follow his/her advice on whether to take medication or not. While sometimes the use of medications is controversial, other times, they can save your life.
Evidence suggests that smoking cigarettes can result in “stickier” LDL, making smokers more predisposed to significant artery buildup than non-smokers. Besides, smoking may damage your arteries and additionally lower your HDL. 
Cigarette smokes, or smoke in general, causes oxidative damage in your blood. These toxins will damage the lining of your arteries and this damage is one of the first steps in the process of plaque formation. A build of damage to your arteries is one of the leading causes of heart disease.
Reduce the consumption of alcohol
While, in some cases, limited alcohol consumption may increase HDL, drinking too much (or too often) can increase LDL and total cholesterol levels in the blood. 
Increase your physical activity
According to a 2014 study, regular exercising may play a role in increasing HDL levels and offsetting increases in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.  Sedentary lifestyle (a.k.a. lack of exercise) is now being called “The new cigarette”. What this means is, never exercising is just as bad for you as smoking.
Reduce your weight
A study in the journal of Diabetes Care suggests that weight loss and low-fat diet may significantly decrease LDL in individuals with metabolic syndrome. 
Increase heart healthy foods, including  :
- Unsaturated fats (including omega-3 and 6 fatty acids). Sources: fatty fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel), nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado, and others.
- Fiber (soluble and insoluble): all kinds of fruits and veggies, as well as whole grains (oats, barley, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat).
- Foods rich in antioxidants. Sources: berries, citrus fruits, garlic, broccoli, and beets (in general, most fruit and vegetables have some antioxidants).
- Organic foods, when possible. This is because pesticides have been shown to damage the walls of our arteries.
- Foods rich in probiotics (e.g., fermented foods (without additives), yogurt, kefir)
Make dietary changes, avoiding the following foods (or eating them in moderation):
- Processed foods: salty and sugary snacks, salami, ham, bacon, flavored popcorn, etc.
- Foods with high sugar content: cookies, candy
- Red meat: pork, lamb, beef (especially fatty cuts of meat)
- Dairy products: milk, cream, cheeses, butter
- Saturated fats: eggs, coconut oil, palm oil, beef fat, refined oils
- Fried foods (like french fries)
The quality of your lifestyle plays a major role in supporting a balanced cholesterol profile. If you start making healthier dietary choices, adopt better lifestyle habits, and introduce more exercise, you can help your body balance its cholesterol, naturally.
Why do you need cholesterol?
Even though having too little cholesterol is not common, it does come with its own risk
Your body needs limited amounts of cholesterol to function properly. It is used for :
- Hormone production
- Vitamin D production
- Bile acid production (needed to digest proteins)
This is why we want to aim for optimal cholesterol levels, and not just low cholesterol levels.
Finally, it is important to note that high cholesterol is just one of many risk factors for heart disease. If high cholesterol is a concern of yours, please see your qualified healthcare professional.