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Lowering cholesterol involves more than you think

Published October 05. 2009 02:55PM

The greater the number, the greater the impact, right?

So when you read that a study published in the August issue of Geriatrics & Cognitive Disorders found that the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease increased by 66 percent among the middle-aged subjects with high cholesterol a reading of 240 and above the "66" serves as a not-so-subtle elbow to the ribs.

Especially if you or someone you love has that high a number.

After all, even those dopes with a death wish who use the you-have-to-die-from-something argument to justify cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, or illegal drug use don't want to get Alzheimer's. Even they know riding larger and larger waves of confusion, disorientation, and irritability is no way to spend your last days on this beach.

So why should a lesser number, a "52," feel less like a poke in the ribs and more like a right hook to the jaw?

Because the same study found that the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease increased by 52 percent among the middle-aged subjects with moderately high cholesterol a range that spans from 200 to 239.

Not only are the odds that you or somebody you love fall into moderately high category much greater, but the "52" also suggests that the cholesterol categories need to be reworked. In fact, after learning of this study, Dr. Robert Mahley, president of the J. David Gladstone Institutes affiliated with the University of California-San Francisco, said, "[The result] sends a major red signal that what many people consider to be a normal cholesterol level is not normal cholesterol."

The study in question began in 1964, and by 1973 researchers had taken blood from 9,844 men and women between the ages of 40 to 45 to ascertain their cholesterol levels. After periodic blood work throughout the years, the study concluded in 2007 with the oldest subjects now 88 years old.

But there is a potentially sunny spin to such seemingly dark results. People with moderately high cholesterol in middle age the group that is 52 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer's can usually drop their number into the normal range (whether that range is ultimately going to be lowered is a subject for another column) thereby reducing their risk in two months or so, not by medication, but simply by eating better and exercising more.

But eating better: that might be a bit more difficult than you first believe. And not from lack of trying.

A series of articles posted by Dr. William Davis at Health suggest, that while you may actually believe you are eating better, what you may really be doing is increasing your total cholesterol level.

That's because many low-fat, so-called heart healthy foods, have high amounts of sugar. And just about any processed food using sugar uses the type that's cheapest and the worst for you.

High-fructose corn syrup.

No, I didn't plan on warning you about this ubiquitous additive again (the last time was late May), but Davis's posts on the evils of fructose are just too compelling not to do so. He writes, for instance, that a study on the adverse health effects of fructose done by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley shows that when compared to glucose, fructose led to a 13.9 percent increase in LDL cholesterol, the "bad" kind that's been implicated in cardiovascular disease.

It also produced the worst kind of LDL cholesterol, the "small" type that's more likely to lead to cardiovascular disease at more than triple the rate of glucose.

But why target HFCS and not rant, as nutritional guru John Parrillo is known to do, on the evils of all fructose, including fruit and fruit juices?

Because, as another of Davis's posts explains, if that's your goal, avoiding fructose is easy.

Table sugar is 50 percent fructose, for instance, so you make sure you don't add that to coffee or tea or cereal. And if you want to be as dedicated as a competitive Parrillo-trained bodybuilder, you cut out all fruit and fruit juices, too.

But cutting out HFCS is more involved than that.

If cutting out fructose is akin to treating poison ivy, avoiding HFCS is more like treating bedbug bites.

If you're finding those telltale reddish-brown marks on your body after sleeping, you need to do more than just apply a lotion as in the case of poison ivy. You need to dismantle the bed frame, clean dresser drawers, disinfect the mattress, the box spring, and just about everything else in the room.

Because, like HFCS, bedbugs are seemingly everywhere.

As Dr. Davis says, "If [the food] has a label, it probably has high-fructose corn syrup added." Here's his partial list of where it lurks: ketchup, beer, breads, fruit drinks, energy drinks, spaghetti sauce, low-fat salad dressings, sodas, and breakfast cereals.

Learn more about HFCS next weekincluding why this week's column will probably generate as many letters and e-mails from Washington, D.C. as Carbon County.

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