Blood Cholesterol Facts

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Blood Cholesterol Facts

WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL?

Cholesterol, a whitish, waxy substance, is manufactured by our body (mainly from the liver) and ingested from certain foods we eat. Cholesterol, essential to life, is used to manufacture hormones used by the body and is a component of cell membranes, brain and nerve cells.

WHY SHOULD BLOOD CHOLESTEROL LEVELS BE LOWERED?

Evidence shows that elevated levels of blood cholesterol lead to an increased risk of heart disease. In fact, every 1% reduction of blood cholesterol yields an approximate 2% reduction in probability of heart disease.

WHAT SHOULD OUR BLOOD CHOLESTEROL LEVELS BE?

Less than 200 mg/dl of cholesterol is desirable, 200240 mg/dl is borderline high, and more than 240 mg/dl is high.

DO WE NEED CHOLESTEROL IN OUR DIET?

The average American eats 300-500 mg of cholesterol per day -- about half is absorbed. Cholesterol is not an essential nutrient, because even if no cholesterol is ingested, the liver produces about 500-1000 mg of cholesterol per day, enough for bodily functions (see Fig. 1).

WHAT FOODS CONTAIN CHOLESTEROL?

Only foods from animal sources contain cholesterol. If a food comes from a plant, it cannot contain cholesterol.

IF NO CHOLESTEROL IS EATEN, WILL THAT LOWER BLOOD CHOLESTEROL?

In most people, consumption of cholesterol-containing foods has little effect on blood cholesterol. The most important factor in lowering blood cholesterol is controlling the amount of ingested saturated fat. Saturated fats are found in both animal and plant products.

WHAT IS SATURATED FAT?

Saturated fat is one of three different types of fats found in foods; the other two types are polyunsaturated and monosaturated fats. Foods always contain a mixture of these fats. When one type of fat predominates, the food is said to be "high" in that type of fat.

Saturated fats can be recognized by usually being hard at room temperature, whereas polyunsaturated and monosaturated oils are usually soft or liquid.

Some liquid oils are hydrogenated by a chemical process to make them harder at room temperature. As a consequence, they also become saturated fat. Shortening is one example.

HOW IS SATURATED FAT AVOIDED?

One of the easiest ways to avoid saturated fat is to cut down on all kinds of fats. Although saturated fats are usually found in animal products, they can be found in vegetable products, particularly the tropical oils: coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.

It is important to become a label reader to avoid saturated fat. One serving of food should contain less than 5 mg to be considered low in saturated fat.

WHY SHOULD SATURATED FAT BE AVOIDED?

As mentioned earlier, saturated fat is the main culprit in raising blood cholesterol. Evidence shows that when blood cholesterol is high, the excess that cannot be excreted is stored in areas of the body such as blood vessels and coronary arteries. As the cholesterol and fats build up in the inner walls of the arteries, the arteries become narrower and narrower, not unlike the buildup of scale in old water pipes. This process is known as atherosclerosis.

Since most coronary heart disease is due to blockages in the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle, keeping arteries clear is important. Blood cholesterol is one of three main controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease. (The other two controllable risk factors are high blood pressure and cigarette smoking).

The number one cause of death in this country is coronary heart disease; 1.5 million Americans will suffer a heart attack this year and 500,000 of them will die.

References
(1.) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Blood cholesterol. National Institute of Health Publication No. 88-2696 revised Nov 1987.

(2.) Carper J. Total nutrition guide. New York: Bantam Books, 1987

(3.) Grundy SM. Hyperlipoproteinemia: metabolic basis and rationale for therapy. Am J Cardiol 1984;54:20C-26C

(4.) Hoeg JM, Gregg RE, Brewer, Jr HB. An approach to the management of hyperlipoproteinemia. JAMA 1986;255(4).

(5.) Krause MV, Mahan KL. Food, nutrition, and diet therapy. Philadelphia: WB Saunders, 1984

(6.) Kuk K. Lowering cholesterol for better health. J Am Osteopath Assoc 1987;87(1).

(7.) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Surgeon general's report on nutrition and health. 1988

The National College of Chiropractic.

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By Larry W. Greenly

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