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Cholesterol and Cheerios: The benefits of cholesterol testing and fiber consumption

Category: Heart Health and Cholesterol

Cholesterol testing may help curb the epidemic of high blood pressure affecting adults in the U.S., according to a recent study of more than 17,000 American adults performed by the American Heart Association and published in the journal Circulation.

The study found that high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects nearly one-third of U.S. adults and causes a two-fold increase in the likelihood that an individual will develop heart disease over his or her lifetime. Former research has shown that treating high blood pressure mitigates the risk by one-quarter. Likewise, treating high cholesterol in individuals with high blood pressure can reduce the risk by more than one-third. The present study endorsed a therapeutic regimen of managing both blood pressure and cholesterol and also found that prescribing medications to better manage blood pressure and cholesterol may improve the health of older individuals, individuals with diabetes, individuals with cardiovascular disease and Hispanic or African-American individuals.

Receive a cholesterol test
High cholesterol is insidious because, according to the Mayo Clinic, it often does not cause noticeable symptoms. As lead author and professor of medicine and pharmacology at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C., Brent Egan, M.D. emphasized, low-density lipoprotein and non-​high-density lipoprotein readings are "the ones to really watch." Thus, when an individual sees his or her physician, he or she might consider asking for a cholesterol test. Also known as a lipid panel, a cholesterol test is a blood test that measures the levels of fats (lipids) in one's blood. The test provides four measures: total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides. According to the Mayo Clinic, the ideal level for LDL is less than 130 milligrams per deciliter.

However, Egan warned that cholesterol tests are ripe for misinterpretation:

"If patients' cholesterol tests show a good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) level, which is the healthy, protective cholesterol, then the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) number might get overlooked. Unfortunately, not all HDL is equally protective and some people with a normal HDL are at high risk. In those patients, there might be a false sense of assurance that cholesterol really isn't a problem."

Consume more fiber
Fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, is a part of plant that the human body is unable to digest or absorb. A recent review of studies conducted for the American Society of Nutrition concluded that individuals who eat a diet rich in whole grains may be less likely to develop heart disease or diabetes than those who eat a diet impoverished of whole grains. Of note, the study found that the most effective source of fiber was cereal - foods from Cheerios to quinoa, bread to brown rice. Individuals who consumed the most cereal fiber or whole grains plus bran exhibited an 18 to 40 percent lower chance of developing diabetes than those who consumed the least. In addition, individuals who consumed the most cereal fiber or whole grains plus bran exhibited a 22 to 43 percent lower risk of stroke than their counterparts.

However, as author Lu Qi noted, because none of the studies reviewed compared experimental and control groups, further research is needed to disentangle a cause-and-effect relationship. In other words, Qi explained, eating a large quantity fiber might make people feel full longer, which might cause them to eat less, thereby causing them to develop fewer weight-related health complications, such as heart disease. At the same time, however, it is equally likely that individuals who eat large quantities of fiber might happen to be healthier for other reasons.

Where there is smoke, there is often a fire
Like the benefits of cholesterol testing, however, where there is smoke there is often a fire. To be sure, the Mayo Clinic states that a diet rich in fiber may lower cholesterol levels, normalize blood sugar levels and help individuals maintain a healthy weight. The clinic also recommends that, to receive the greatest benefit, individuals eat a smorgasbord of high-fiber foods.

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