Cholesterol: How Diet Can Help?

Reducing saturated fats has the greatest effect of all dietary measures on blood cholesterol levels, lowering them by as much as 14 percent.

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Cholesterol: How Diet Can Help?

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Despite several decades in the spotlight of medical and media concern, cholesterol remains one of the most contentious aspects of the factors that influence our health. Medical experts disagree about its relationship to heart disease, and the public is uncertain as to what cholesterol actually is. People often tend to confuse the two types of cholesterol-dietary cholesterol and blood or `plasma’ cholesterol. The first is contained in food, the other is essential for the body’s metabolism.

What is Cholesterol?

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Each day the liver manufactures up to 1g of blood cholesterol, the fat-like waxy material that is a component of all cells. Blood cholesterol is also involved in the creation of some hormones, and helps to make vitamin D and bile acids, which aid digestion.

The major risks of heart disease sterol are rooted in genetic make-up, though diet and obesity are also important factors. Which there is nothing that can be done about heredity; you can change your diet.

How Diet Can Help?

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Reducing saturated fats has the greatest effect of all dietary measures on blood cholesterol levels, lowering them by as much as 14 percent. Recent US studies suggest that eating foods that contain soluble FIBER-such as oatmeal, baked beans, pectin-rich fruits such as grapefruit, and dried fruit-can lower cholesterol levels still further. Compounds in GARLIC also suppress cholesterol production in the liver.

The amount of cholesterol in the diet is not reflected by the amount of saturated fat in the diet. Foods rich in cholesterol are now not thought to dramatically increase the risk of heart disease for healthy people. However, most experts agree that those with heart problems, a family history of heart disease, or high blood cholesterol levels, should limit dietary cholesterol are found in egg yolks, offal (particularly liver and brains) and in shrimps and prawns. But controversy colors the extent to which these source-particularly eggs, which are low in saturated fats but high in cholesterol-influence cholesterol levels. While the World Health Organization argues that up to ten eggs a week will not hurt you, the British Heart Foundation believes that three of four eggs a week is safe maximum-while its transatlantic counterpart, the American Heart Association, sets the level at three.

In fact, the average daily cholesterol intake of British males is about 390 mg daily and those women enough 290 mg-enough to raise blood cholesterol levels by about 5 percent.

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Fortunately, the body can normally iron out rises in dietary cholesterol. With most people the liver automatically manufactures less cholesterol when levels from foods in the diet become too high. Even where there is a substantial intake of fats, the average healthy person is not at risk.

Because blood is mainly composed of water-which does not blend with fat-cholesterol is transported around the body attached to specific proteins called lipoprotein. There are two types of lipoprotein. There are two types of lipoproteins; low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL carry about three-quarters of the cholesterol in blood, and high LDL levels usually reflect high cholesterol levels and imply a higher risk of heart disease. High levels of HDL-which carry much less fat-signal a lower than average risk of heart disease.

Those Most at Risk

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High levels of LDL tend to stem from a defect (often hereditary) in a receptor in the liver which should remove them from the blood. When this receptor does not function properly a chronic furring of the arties called ATHERO-SCEROSIS occurs. Hormonal disorders, which may affect those with diabetes or thyroid problems, can also ‘switch’ off’ the receptors.

Because the female hormone oestro-gen increases both the number and effectiveness of LDL receptors, there-fore helping to keep blood cholesterol levels low, women are less prone to heart disease before the menopause. Women also tend to have higher levels of HDL, which further reduce the risks of atherosclerosis and heart disease.

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Exercise often helps to lower LDL levels and raise HDL. Moderate alcohol consumption-three glasses of beer a day, or two of wine-may also increase the HDL levels in people who are not overweight. However, obesity reduces HDL levels.

Drug used to alter the levels of the two lipoproteins tend to benefit those with high, rather than moderately raised cholesterol levels. Even when these drugs are successfully, they should be accompanied by an improved diet.

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Ivor Reveley
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