My Doctor Told Me I’d Never Lower My Cholesterol Naturally—I Proved Her Wrong
Here's how one man improved his cholesterol without medication, and how he helps others get fit and healthy today.
Courtesy Andrew Wyant
Small but mighty changes
High cholesterol is serious business. Past research from the American Heart Association (AHA) found that for every 10 years you have even mildly elevated cholesterol after age 35, your risk of heart disease—the leading cause of death in the US, can increase by a concerning 39%. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates about a third of all heart disease is caused by high cholesterol.
Often, high cholesterol has no symptoms—which is why it’s so important to get your levels tested. Thankfully, there are many ways to treat it, but medication alone doesn’t eliminate your heart disease risk. For instance, 2022 research suggests that taking statins, one of the most commonly prescribed medications, may not be as effective as previously thought. The analysis of 21 clinical studies found statins reduce the risk of heart attacks by 29% and strokes by 14%. Still, other research urges that cholesterol-lowering medication is lifesaving for many people. In a nutshell: how to best lower cholesterol can be very specific to an individual.
Andrew Wyant, 52, of Pheonix, AZ, took an all-natural approach to manage his heart disease risk, lowering his cholesterol through a series of small lifestyle changes. As the current president of the International Sports Sciences Association and former president of the National Academy of Sports Medicine—two bodies that certify and train fitness professionals—he understands how crucial sound health recommendations are. So, if you’ve been prescribed medication for high cholesterol, don’t stop taking it without consulting your doctor first. But as you work with your doctor, consider Wyant’s ultimate advice: trust in your ability to change.
“You really think you can change your whole life, just like that?”
That challenge came from my doctor, and her smirk made it clear that she absolutely did not believe I could make the changes necessary to fix my health. But it was her attitude that made me certain: I was going to prove her wrong.
I would change my whole life, I vowed. Also, I would find a new doctor.
This was over a decade ago. I was 40 years old, 5-food-9, and 200 pounds. And I’d just been told that my cholesterol level was dangerously high. Oh, and I was about to become a first-time father, a role that comes with a lot of stress and sleepless nights.
My doc wanted me to start a prescription medication right away, and when I looked at it objectively, I could see why. Still, I decided I wanted to try to lower my cholesterol myself first.
I did it for me, but even more, I did it for my daughter. I was already going to be an older dad, and I wanted her to have a father who could chase her in the park and take her camping.
I didn’t want to miss a single thing, and that meant getting healthy.
Unlearning years of bad habits
That was much easier said than done. I’d spent the first 20 years of my career in a demanding job as a management consultant, traveling all over the world. It gave me few opportunities to work out and an overabundance of steak dinners and cocktail hours.
I’d put on 50 pounds since I’d graduated from college. And it wasn’t muscle.
Exercise seemed a good place to start. I did what every person trying to get fit does: I bought new running shoes and hit the pavement. I didn’t make it to the end of the block before I was so out of breath I couldn’t continue.
My goal had been to run a mile. I’d made it a tenth of the way there.
I thought about giving up, but then I remembered the doctor’s smirk. Instead of quitting, I set a fitness goal of running one-tenth of a mile the next day, adding a tenth of a mile each day after that.
That stepwise approach felt doable. Sure enough, about two weeks later, I ran one mile.
After three months of consistent hard work, I got my cholesterol tested again. The number had come down some, but it was still in the high range.
I decided it was time to get some expert advice.
Professional help for high cholesterol
Running wasn’t enough to get fit, but I didn’t know anything about other types of exercise.
So I joined a gym and hired a personal trainer. I figured a personal trainer could help me build muscle, clean up my diet, and make some targeted goals.
The first trainer my gym matched me with didn’t work out. She looked the part—super fit and confident—but she was more interested in her goals than mine. It was a valuable experience, though, teaching me what I do and don’t want in a personal trainer.
When I met trainer No. 2, I was leery at first. He didn’t look the part. But he turned out to be exactly the trainer I needed. He had tons of experience and was a wealth of knowledge, particularly when it came to treating health conditions like high cholesterol.
I worked with him for six months. With his help, I lost 20 pounds and ran my first half marathon.
At my next checkup, I still didn’t quite have totally healthy cholesterol levels. My LDL (“bad”) cholesterol was normal, but my HDL (“good”) cholesterol was low.
By then, I understood how valuable expert advice could be, provided it came from the right expert. I hired a health coach, who recommended a diet targeted to boosting my good cholesterol while still keeping my total cholesterol low.
I was introduced to quinoa and fell in love with salmon (a great source of the healthy types of fat). She taught me how to make simple changes that become lifelong habits, so my new lifestyle wouldn’t be a temporary fix.
I was so inspired by the people I worked with that I totally changed careers. I now work in the fitness industry, as president of the International Sports Sciences Association.
My stress went down, my quality of life went up, and I get to share my passion for healthy living with others who are struggling with their own health. It was so gratifying to go from being told by an expert that I couldn’t get healthy to helping others achieve their goals.
Trust in yourself
It shows in my blood work: my LDL cholesterol is 120 mg/dl, and my HDL cholesterol is 45 mg/dl. Both are good cholesterol levels. My triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure are healthy, too.
And I did it all without medications. (That’s not to say cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins aren’t useful. They’re necessary for some people, and there is no shame in taking them if you need them.)
The hard work I put into changing my lifestyle has paid off in my daily life. I feel happy and strong. I have energy throughout my day. I can throw luggage around like a superhero. And I can keep up with my daughter in all of her adventures and activities. I’m the dad I always wanted to be.
I proved that doctor wrong. But even more important, I proved myself right. There are no magic bullets or quick fixes, but by making small, consistent changes and accepting help when you need it, anyone can do what I did.
—As told to Charlotte Hilton Andersen, with additional reporting by Leslie Finlay