Do Natural Remedies Work for Lowering Cholesterol?

A deeper look at niacin, CoQ10, and Chinese red yeast extract

By Roberta H. Anding, MS, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily
Red yeast rice close up on white background
When you decide to take a supplement for lowering your cholesterol, it’s best to tell your physician so that its effects can be monitored. Photo By MilletStudio / Shutterstock

Safety of Natural Remedies

Some people question whether natural remedies are safer and more effective than prescription medications for preventing or treating heart disease and lowering cholesterol. According to Professor Anding, you should take precautions when turning to natural remedies. 

For example, the active ingredient in Chinese red yeast extract is the same compound in statin resin that physicians prescribe for cholesterol, but they share a critical difference. One you start taking a statin resin, your physician will monitor your liver enzymes for damage.

If you have any muscular soreness, that could be a consequence of taking that medication and your physician would tell you to discontinue it. Again, the same compound is found in Chinese red yeast extract, and in this case, nobody’s monitoring you.

You might be wondering what would happen if you took some of the prescription medication for cholesterol and followed it up with a natural remedy. In this case, you could potentially be doubling your dose with no knowledge. Thus, according to Professor Anding, “all natural” does not necessarily mean that the supplement is safe or superior to prescription medication.

Can Niacin Lower Your Cholesterol?

Another question that often comes up is whether or not niacin can lower your cholesterol. Studies have found that niacin—which is a B vitamin—can be effective at lowering cholesterol, but it may include some side effects such as itching and tingling. 

You can also get a “niacin flush” where you feel a pins-and-needles sensation in your skin and turn beet-red. Supplemental niacin in large doses is more than you could get from your food and some evidence suggests it may raise your blood sugar. 

“Don’t take over-the-counter niacin,” Professor Anding said. “Let your physician prescribe a version for you so at least you have monitoring.”

If you do decide to take a supplement, you should tell your primary health care provider so he or she can educate you on the side effects and any interactions with other medications. This way, your provider can also monitor how you are reacting to the supplement and how it is impacting your cholesterol.

Coenzyme Q10 for Statins

Finally, you may be wondering about the validity of the claim that taking Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) as a supplement is beneficial for heart patients. CoQ10 is a nutrient that acts as an antioxidant—protecting cells from damage—and plays a role in muscle cell energy production.

We produce CoQ10 naturally and can also obtain it from many foods in our diet, but individuals taking statin resins can become CoQ10 deficient and by extension, develop muscle and joint aches. This is because CoQ10 becomes quickly metabolized when taking statins.

Thus, some research suggests that taking CoQ10 supplements can help mitigate the muscle pain that accompanies statins. So far the results from these studies have been mixed.

However, a 2014 study published in Medical Science Monitor found that CoQ10 decreased statin-related muscle symptoms in 75% of patients. If you are currently taking statins, then it is worth mentioning to your doctor that you are interested in CoQ10 as it doesn’t cause side effects for most people.

Overall, whether you are considering supplementing with niacin, CoQ10, or Chinese red yeast extract to either lower your cholesterol or reduce the effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs, please consult with your physician. Above all, the best actions that you can take for a healthy heart according to Professor Anding are to eat healthy, exercise, and get tested for your cholesterol level.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for Wondrium Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for Wondrium Daily.

Professor Roberta H. Anding is a registered dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. She also teaches and lectures in the Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine and Sports Medicine, and in the Department of Kinesiology at Rice University.