Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More on Cholesterol Controversy:

More On The Cholesterol Controversy:
New Study Confirms That Exercise, Not Cholesterol, Is The Most Important Factor In Heart Health And Lifespan
Last week the Boston Herald ran an article that referenced some powerful statements from Dr. John Abramson. Dr. Abramson, a Robert Woods Johnson Fellow who teaches primary care at the Harvard Medical School, noted that “senior citizens following four simple health habits had only one-third the death rate of people not maintaining these habits.”

Read that again: one-third the death rate. There’s not a drug on earth that can state the same, with the exception of drugs needed to keep people alive!

Dr. Abramson was commenting on a recent article in JAMA that indicated that people maintaining the four habits experience a 69% lower death rate from cancer and a 73% lower death rate from heart disease.

“The most important habit,” the report indicated, “is regular exercise.” Well, what do you know? All that stuff in Fit Over 40 about exercising may just be more valuable than vain. (Actually I know it is, but some people still think of exercise as an “exercise in vanity.” Odd, as you never hear the same argument for “sloth”.)

Here’s the highlights of the study that appeared in last month’s Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The findings are nothing new to me, as I’ve been a cholesterol skeptic for 10 years, but they may be news to you — and to your primary care physician. Please pass this by him or her prior to making any changes to your current medication or dietary lifestyle.

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Diet and exercise, not low cholesterol, keeps the heart happy
— by Dr. John Abramson

Finally some good medical news for the elderly: A study in last month’s Journal of the American Geriatrics Society shows that once you hit 65, you can stop worrying about your cholesterol level.

In fact, the results of the study - which measured cholesterol levels and longevity in two northern Italian towns over the past 11 years - should send shivers up the spines of drug companies that make Lipitor and other cholesterol-lowering statins.

The Italian study showed the higher the total or the bad cholesterol level, the longer people lived. (You read that right.) The study did have one caveat: Men whose LDL cholesterol levels were above 160 mg/dL would have benefited from a slightly but not dramatically lower level.

Of course, that research jibes with the results of our own Framingham Heart Study, the granddaddy of them all. It shows that after people reach middle age, their cholesterol level no longer has a significant impact on how long they will live. And once people reach 80, it’s the same in Framingham as it is in northern Italy: The higher the cholesterol, the longer people live. (Editor’s emphasis.)

So, seniors, when you see the TV ads with the animated cholesterol particles clogging up arteries, just click to another station. Or better yet, go get a piece of fruit, or take a walk.

To be fair, the drug companies have done their own studies - and they’ve come to similar conclusions. Bristol-Myers Squibb tested the effectiveness of its cholesterol-lowering drug Pravachol in people ages 70- 82, about half of whom already had heart disease and half of whom were at increased risk of developing it.

The conclusions, published in the Lancet in 2002: Taking Pravachol did not reduce the overall death rate any more than a sugar pill. The seniors taking it who didn’t yet have heart disease didn’t have a lower risk of developing it than those taking sugar pills.

Does this mean you can cast caution to the wind and eat all the roast beef, custard, ice cream and butter that you want? Absolutely not. On the contrary, most of your health is the result of the choices you make and not what your cholesterol blood test shows.

An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that senior citizens following four simple health habits had only one-third the death rate of people not maintaining these habits. Death from cancer was 69 percent lower, while death from heart attacks was slashed by an astonishing 73 percent.

The most important habit, this study showed, is regular exercise. (Editor’s emphasis) Another key to a long, healthy life: not smoking, or having quit for at least 15 years. (Note to young smokers: It’s not too late to quit.) The JAMA study also showed that those who take a nip of alcohol on most days are also likelier to live longer.

The fourth healthy habit recommended in the JAMA study: a Mediterranean-style diet. In other words, eat like those northern Italians. A simple version of this diet includes more fruits, vegetables, unprocessed grains, olive oil and fish (but watch out for salmon farmed in the North Atlantic - those waters are collecting too many toxic chemicals). (Editor’s Note: This dietary profile and samples of people who use it is to stay healthy and get lean are found throughout Fit Over 40. In fact I feel our role models represent an even superior approach.)

Of course, you should discuss all this with your own doctor. Meantime, ask not what your cholesterol level is. Ask instead how you can best decrease your risk of heart disease and improve your chances of staying healthy. These questions will lead to much better health than simply getting your cholesterol level checked and starting on drugs.

— Special thanks to Lee Wennerberg, Fit Over 40 European Contributing Writer

Jon Benson
Creator/Co-Author of Fit Over 40: Role Models For Excellence At Any Age

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