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Published: September, 2009; Vol 6, Num 4

 

Keep Close Watch on Cholesterol

Add Alzheimer’s disease to your list of reasons for eating properly, exercising regularly and getting your cholesterol checked during September, National Cholesterol Education Month. A new study conducted by the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research indicates that adults in the 40-plus age bracket who have even moderately elevated levels of cholesterol face significantly higher risks for Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia in their later years.

Watching Your Cholesterol
And Afraid You’ll Go Hungry?

Not to worry. Lean cuts of meat, a smorgasbord of fish containing high contents of omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna and trout, whole fruit, flax seed, walnuts, oatmeal and oat bran can help control your cholesterol. In the case of certain fish, your cholesterol levels might even be lowered. Food preparation does play a role in the effectiveness of these foods. For a list of cholesterol friendly cooking tips and recipes, go to the American Heart Association's website.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that occurs naturally in your body. You need it to survive. Cholesterol helps in the formation of cell membranes, the production of hormones like estrogen and testosterone, vitamin D and bile acids that are essential for digestion. There are two types of cholesterol: High-density lipoproteins (HDL), which create the ingredients you need to keep your body functioning properly, and low-density lipoproteins, (LDL), which deliver the HDL through your blood system to where it is needed.

Your liver is responsible for producing cholesterol. You add to this natural supply every time you eat foods containing cholesterol like meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. When you have more LDL than you need, the excess clogs your arteries in the form of a protein called plaque and increases the likelihood of heart attack, stroke, and as the new study reveals, Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

Cholesterol-Fighting Drugs

A number of drugs are available today to help you win your battle against high cholesterol.  They’re called statins and they work by reducing the amount of cholesterol your body makes. They may also help your body reabsorb cholesterol, thus lowering the likelihood of plaque-filled arteries that can lead to stroke, heart attack and Alzheimer’s disease.

Statins may also be useful to those with high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is an indicator of increased risk for heart attack or stroke even for those without high levels of cholesterol. A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that statins cut the likelihood of stroke or the need for angioplasty or bypass surgery by nearly half.

Heredity plays a factor in all of this as it determines what your natural cholesterol level is, but a diet rich in fatty meats, butter, ice cream and whole milk, not enough exercise, weight, age, sex, alcohol consumption and stress all have roles in how much cholesterol your body stores. It’s essential to make cholesterol monitoring (a simple blood test) a regular part of your health check-up because, until you actually experience a health crisis, no symptoms will show that your cholesterol is too high. If the blood test reveals a problem, lifestyle changes such as reducing your fat intake and increasing your exercise routine may be all that are necessary to bring your cholesterol down to a healthy level. If that doesn’t do the trick, medication is available. Your doctor will make the determination about what is best for you.

The LHSFNA publishes a number of materials related to health and diet, as well as the particular problem of high cholesterol. Don’t Get Stuck with High Cholesterol is just one of them. For more information on these publications, go online to www.lhsfna.org.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]