The time it takes to lower your cholesterol depends on a number of factors, all of which vary for every person. Most important is your understanding of the changes you must make, the guidelines in place to make them and why these guidelines are in place. Without this comprehension, you may fail to make a full commitment to yourself and your health.
The National Cholesterol Education Program
The National Cholesterol Education Program--NCEP--was created by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute in 1985. Its goal is to educate health care providers and the public about the risks of high cholesterol, thus reducing the number of cholesterol-related illnesses and death. The NCEP determines what healthy cholesterol levels are, your risk factors for heart disease and the best treatment options for those with high cholesterol, based on studies their expert panel of doctors perform.
Therapeutic Lifestyle Diet
The therapeutic lifestyle changes, TLC, diet is one form of treatment the NCEP designed to help lower cholesterol, and is designed for people with high low-density lipoprotein, LDL, levels, explains the American Heart Association. High levels of this cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. This diet is progressive, and the first three months are centered around dietary and lifestyle changes. The intensity of your treatment depends on your risk factors. A person who is overweight requires a reduction in caloric intake, while a patient within a healthy weight range does not.
The First Six Weeks
The first six weeks on the TLC diet requires a reduction in saturated fats and dietary cholesterol intake. Saturated fats such as red meat, whole-fat dairy products, egg yolks and butter should not comprise more than 7 percent of your total daily calories, and your cholesterol intake should be less than 200mg per day. These changes combined can reduce your LDL between 11 and 15 percent, according to the NHLBI. If you are overweight, losing 10 lbs. can decrease your LDL up to 8 percent. Do this by adding fiber-rich foods such as oats, fruits, vegetables and legumes; these fill you faster and help restrict calories. They are also forms of soluble fiber; eating 5 to 10g daily can decrease your LDL between 3 and 5 percent in the first six weeks. Adding moderate physical activity, such as 30 minutes of walking each day, helps burn calories and improve cholesterol levels.
The Next Six Weeks
Follow up with your doctor and undergo a cholesterol blood test to check your LDL levels after the first six weeks. At this point your doctor may implement more changes while continuing with the changes you have already made. Plant sterols and stanols, natural substances certain foods and beverages are fortified with, absorb excess cholesterol. Consuming 2g per day via fortified orange juice or yogurt can lower your LDL between 5 and 15 percent during the second six weeks of the TLC diet, according to the NHLBI. If necessary, your doctor may increase your intake of soluble fiber. He will determine the amount based on your personal situation.
The last phase of the diet involves adding medications in addition to the dietary changes you have made. Combining your changes with the medication your doctor chooses may help keep your dosage low, which may prevent the onset of unwanted side effects. It may take time for your doctor to find the right medication for you, and in some cases, he may need to prescribe more than one. Once you begin taking medication, visit your doctor every four to six months. This allows him to determine your progress and make changes as needed. Exceptions do exist. If taking a statin, the most common drug for lowering LDL cholesterol, you require a blood test approximately six weeks after beginning drug therapy, explains MayoClinic.com. This checks your liver function, as liver damage is a possible side effect of these drugs.
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute; Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC; December 2005
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute; National Cholesterol Education Program; April 2011
- American Heart Association; Step I, Step II and TLC Diets; April 2011
- MayoClinic.com; Statins: Are these cholesterol-lowering drugs right for you?; February 2010