Q. Dear Joe & Terry Graedon,

 Thank you for all the information you make available to the public about alternatives to many pharmaceuticals. You are providing a needed service to the public.

 I looked on your website for alternatives to statins to lower high cholesterol. I found a suggestion about using vinegar, but none of the respondents had reported whether it worked.

My cholesterol was 187 and my doctor has said if I don’t lower it in three months on my own, he wants to put me on statins. I would prefer not to take such drugs.

Do you know of any other options that might work? I would like to lower my cholesterol naturally before my next appointment.

Again, thank you for your public service.


A. Dear Pearl,

 Thank you for your thoughtful question. If you have not had a cardiac event, we’re not sure your doctor would be doing you any favors by prescribing a statin. In fact, if your total cholesterol is 187, we are hard put to understand why he would want to lower your cholesterol levels any further.

It comes as a great shock to people to learn that low cholesterol is associated with increased mortality in older people, especially older women. It runs contrary to everything we have been told over the last couple of decades. But here are the data:

The Honolulu Heart Program

Researchers at the University of Hawaii followed 3,500 Japanese-American men born between 1900 and 1919. Cholesterol levels were measured in middle age and again when they were senior citizens. To the surprise of the investigators, the men with the lowest cholesterol levels had the highest risk of dying. The sweet spot (the cholesterol range that seemed associated with the best longevity outcomes) was 188-209.

The scientists were so confused by their results that they concluded:

“We have been unable to explain our results. These data cast doubt on the scientific justification for lowering cholesterol to very low concentrations (less than 4.65 millimoles per liter) [less than 180 milligrams per deciliter] in elderly people.”

This study was published in 2001. It is neither the first nor the last time low cholesterol levels have been linked to higher mortality, especially in older women.

The Hunt2 Study

We have been particularly impressed by a Norwegian study of more than 52,000 people over 10 years (the HUNT2 Study published in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, Feb. 2012). In this data analysis, the investigators tracked 6,780 older people with attention to cholesterol levels and mortality. One of their first conclusions: “we found total cholesterol to be an overestimated risk factor.” But here is the key finding: There was an inverse relationship between cholesterol and death. In other words, women with a total cholesterol under 200 had a higher death rate than women with cholesterol levels over 200. Even women with cholesterol levels over 270 seemed to fare better than women with low cholesterol. We know: this seems like total heresy!

Here are the investigators’ conclusions:

“Our study provides an updated epidemiological indication of possible errors in the CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk algorithms of many clinical guidelines. If our findings are generalizable, clinical and public health recommendations regarding the ‘dangers’ of cholesterol should be revised. This is especially true for women, for whom moderately elevated cholesterol (by current standards) may prove to be not only harmless but even beneficial.”

Pearl, your doctor may be skeptical about these data, so you may want to print the abstracts we have linked to and take them with you to your appointment.

We’d like to point out that high cholesterol (cholesterol much higher than yours) is only one risk factor for heart disease. There are at least 200. We discuss many of them in our book, Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy, which also contains advice on how to lower cholesterol and inflammation (possibly a more important risk factor) with diet.

The appendix of this book is a fabulous testimonial from Laura Effel, in which she describes exactly how she lowered her LDL cholesterol 44 points in 5 weeks without drugs. Three months later, Laura had gotten her LDL cholesterol down to 70, again without medications. Here is her advice in a nutshell:

  • Avoid spikes in blood sugar
  • Eliminate refined carbohydrates
  • Eat a high-protein breakfast
  • Use olive oil instead of other fats
  • Add soluble fiber to all meals
  • Choose fish instead of meat or poultry
  • Drink green tea
  • Eat high-antioxidant foods
  • Don’t eat before bed 

In Best choices From The People’s Pharmacy, you’ll find all the details on Laura Effel’s regimen. You’ll also get information on lowering your cholesterol with foods such as walnuts, grape juice and wine, pomegranate juice, oatmeal, plant pectin, red grapefruit and dark chocolate. Supplements such as fish oil (especially helpful for high triglycerides), niacin, magnesium, psyllium and red yeast rice also have research to support their ability to help in reducing cholesterol.

What really counts, of course, is helping you survive into a healthy old age. So what we need are good data on a diet to help you do that. The best studies currently available point to the Mediterranean diet as an excellent way to approach this. The PrediMed study from Spain showed that high-risk individuals who ate a Mediterranean-style diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts were less likely to experience a heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular causes (New England Journal of Medicine, April 4, 2013). 

Not only was the Mediterranean diet associated with a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes, further analysis of the data collected in this study showed that it benefited the brain as well, as it was linked to better cognitive function (Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, online May 13, 2013)

Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy provides more details on foods that should be included in a Mediterranean diet on page 83 where we discuss ways to alleviate arthritis. You would be hard-pressed to find a cholesterol-lowering drug that has so many benefits: heart, brain and joints. The book is available at PeoplesPharmacy.com.



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  1. Jan S.

    Some years ago, my body ached so badly, I could hardly get out of my car. A friend suggested I go off the statin and I haven’t had aching like that since and I went back on it twice for a short time, to test. The same result. My husband stopped hiking, going to the “Y” and made excuses. I asked him to just go off the statin for 2 weeks. In one week he saw a difference, is back to hiking and regular exercising at the YMCA. No more statins- phooey!

  2. SalW

    A female at age 75, I have come to the conclusion after much study that cholesterol doesn’t even cause heart disease/death and is indeed an overestimated risk factor. Drugs/statins should be used as a last resort instead of a first-line defense as they can do more harm than good. Too many doctors with monetary conflicts of interest have been involved in lowering the cholesterol guidelines without justified trial studies.
    Doctors also have become so influenced by drug companies to lower the numbers that they don’t acknowledge any adverse side effects. I compare a statin to aspirin. Aspirin certainly will lower a fever but is not able to affect what actually is causing it.
    I believe inflammation which causes plaque formation is the main cause of heart disease, together with sugar and trans (not saturated) fats. Perhaps a better indicator of heart health is the NMR LipoProfile test that measures LDL particle size of molecules in the blood stream. I am working to lower my LDL particle numbers with diet, exercise, turmeric and apple cider vinegar.
    The World Health Organization reports that Switzerland has the highest levels of cholesterol but the lowest rates of heart disease while the Australian Aborigines have the highest death rate but one of the lowest levels of cholesterol.
    Too many studies ignore the elderly as we respond much differently to medications than younger people. A good example was last year’s flu vaccine that had only a 9% effectiveness in people over 65 years of age. This is why I rely on my vitamin D and have not had a flu shot in the past five years.

  3. T

    I was diagnosed with hypobetalipoproteinemia – crazy low cholesterol. I had no detectable LDL. I ate about a tablespoon of coconut oil a day for a couple months and a huge jump in my cholesterol – both LDL and HDL. I would think with 3 tablespoons a day, that would do it! Avocado might be another route. Exercise is also supposed to increase HDL.

  4. D

    You should also note that Caldwell Esselstyn, known for his work on reversing heart disease: “Although coronary artery disease is the leading killer of men and women in the USA, it is rarely encountered in cultures that base their nutrition primarily on grains, legumes, lentils, vegetables, and fruit. In the Framingham study, people with cholesterol levels between 150 and 200 mg/dl accounted for 35% of those with coronary heart disease, but among those with levels

  5. GGMaw

    Cholesterol drugs are over rated and over prescribed. Thank you so much for this report.

  6. SM

    I’m wondering if Pearl’s total cholesterol was 187 or if that was her LDL level. If so, that would explain why her doctor was concerned.

  7. fbl

    Terry & Joe, I asked on another post but it might have been lost in my longish post.
    How can I double my cholesterol? It is only 110.
    Because of trauma to my heart (seat belt shoulder harness) I have already had a stroke and heart attack. My cholesterol never budges. My blood vessels are squeaky clean too by the way.
    Yes, I’ve had great success lowering my hubby’s by having him follow the same diet as me (natural fats, no veggie oils other than Olive and lower carbo).
    I’m using about 3 Tbs of Organic coconut oil daily (in my afternoon hot chocolate) and it has had an amazing effect on my skin over the last almost 14 years. I no longer get cracked calluses on my feet and even my family Dr. of 25 years is amazed that my skin is so good. I use nothing on my face or skin unless it feels dry then I use coconut oil. Tropical Traditions has a body lotion that I use on everything but my face. Once every week or so summer and a couple times a week in winter. I put the coconut oil on my face at night and it soaks in overnight. About once a week in winter and as needed in the summer for my face.
    Oh, one other amazing thing with my coconut oil regimen. I have slowly lost about 100 pounds since starting my coconut oil regimen. No, I have not dieted. I gave that up almost 20 years ago.
    Wow and WOW!
    Most people would be amazed that even with eating coconut oil your cholesterol levels are so low. And to learn that you have fabulous skin AND have lost weight…that is more than impressive. We’re not sure the coconut oil is responsible for everything positive, but it is a fascinating story.
    Most doctors would cringe at the idea of raising cholesterol. They tend to think of it a bit like golf. They can’t imagine anyone wanting a higher gold score or a higher cholesterol level. On the other hand, there are quite a lot of data from Japan suggesting that low cholesterol levels are associated with an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke.
    We do not have any magic way to safely raise your cholesterol. Encouraging you to eat bacon and burgers and drink milk shakes is just not on our list of healthy behaviors. We’re not sure that would even work.
    Perhaps your body is a low-choleterol-making machine and trying to artificially raise your cholesterol would be counterproductive in your case. You may want to ask your doctor what she thinks. We would be fascinated with the answer.

  8. LML

    It seems to me that physicians and other health care providers don’t distinguish between cholesterol and blood lipids. The two get jammed together in lab reports and you have to search out the implications of your own data. I would like to see a chart of the different blood lipids, to understand how there can be high-density low density lipoproteins, and what their distribution in my blood might mean, especially VLDL. There’s more to this than busy doctors are able to cope with an an insurance-dictated amount of time!
    Many thanks for all you do, Linda

  9. BHSR

    Just yesterday I got out your book, BEST CHOICES FROM THE PEOPLES’S PHARMACY, to find some info re very sore throat. While open I turned to the article mentioned in the appendix and read it again. It is good to know that I can turn to your book for a good read about most everything an 83+ needs to know.
    I am not sure when I purchased your book, but I use ever so often. Thanks…
    Barbara R.
    Thanks so much for this unsolicited endorsement. We think that Best Choices is our most comprehensive and most practical book to date. It is still as relevant today as when we wrote it.
    Anyone who would like to learn more can find it here:

  10. Lisa

    Thank you Terry and Joe! I love what you do! The information you impart to all of us is so valuable. If I had to give up all shows–TV and radio–except one I would only listen to The Peoples Pharmacy. In the medical field your are such a breath of fresh air!
    Keep up the good work.

  11. Chas


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