When Elizabeth Gibson started taking a low-dose statin, she was hit with crippling migraines. Within two weeks, the migraines became unbearable. As an experiment, Gibson stopped taking her statins—instead, she changed her diet and took a low dosage of ezetimibe, a medication typically used to supplement statins.
Making these types of adjustments can be an effective way to lower cholesterol, says Nisha Jhalani, MD, director of clinical and educational services at the Center for Interventional Vascular Therapy, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. “I typically give my patients 3 to 6 months to try lifestyle changes alone to lower their cholesterol,” says Jhalani. Along with getting enough sleep, drinking only in moderation, and exercising for at least 30 minutes daily, she recommends a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, fish, and lean meat, as well as getting enough sleep. (Lose weight, feel energized, and lower cholesterol with this plan that naturally retrains your fat cells! Here’s how.)
For Gibson, changes to her diet and exercise were a success: Her migraines ceased, and she was able to effectively lower her cholesterol without relying on statin drugs. In July 2013, Gibson’s cholesterol was 199/66 (overall 294). Now, she fuels up on protein- and fiber-rich food, schedules hourly walk breaks at work, and her cholesterol is down to 139/72 (overall 240).
“I think that relying on healthy fats and eating significantly more fresh vegetables made a big difference in my cholesterol levels,” says Gibson. Here’s exactly what Gibson eats to help keep her cholesterol low, while avoiding statins:
Lunch: Gibson often has a giant salad with mixed greens, sliced onion, celery, radish, and fresh peas—topped with chicken, feta, and a homemade vinegar and oil dressing. Another favorite lunch is salmon salad made with canned red sockeye salmon, celery seed, onion, lemon juice, and a little bit of mayonnaise spread on gluten-free, multi-grain crackers.
Snack: A big glass of seltzer with ice and a splash of ginger ale; dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao; or plain 2% Greek yogurt with nuts or nut cereal. (Make sure you follow these tips before you buy Greek yogurt.)
Dinner: Gibson has baked lemon fish, served with whole-grain dark artisan rice and steamed broccoli. Another typical dinner is lamb chops with herbs and shallots, served with sautéed mushrooms and butternut squash.