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Can a good diet top bad genes?
Dealing with high cholesterol when genes work against you

 Foods with monounsaturated fat, such as walnuts, also can battle high cholesterol.
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Date published: 2/3/2008

EVERY NOW AND THEN, I meet someone who has incredibly high cholesterol levels despite eating very well.

Healthy eating certainly matters when it comes to keeping cholesterol low. But so does knowing how to outsmart unlucky genes, which play a bigger role than you might think.

I have a good friend whose cholesterol was in the whopping 600s in her teens. She's a skinny vegetarian and had to start taking a statin medication, and her cholesterol was still in the 300s as a young adult. A total cholesterol level over 240 is considered high; under 200 is desirable.

My friend had inherited her unusually high cholesterol levels. Severely high levels, called familial hypercholesterolemia, affect only one in 500 people. She was one of the unlucky ones.

How can this happen?

YOU AREN'T WHAT YOU EAT

Most cholesterol in our bodies comes not from foods, but from the way our bodies react to saturated fat. In fact, our livers produce about 1,000 milligrams of cholesterol a day, according to the American Heart Association.

The average person takes in much less cholesterol from food, about 200 to 300 milligrams.

Our bodies make cholesterol because it is useful. Every cell in the body contains cholesterol, which keeps cell membranes flexible and is part of many hormones, such as estrogen, testosterone and vitamin D.

Cholesterol also helps us digest fatty foods, and this is how our diets affect blood cholesterol levels. The more saturated fat (found in butter, red meat, etc.) or trans fat (from partially hydrogenated oils and shortenings) we eat, the more cholesterol-rich bile our livers make to digest the fat.

Some people, like my friend, have inherited the tendency to make too much cholesterol all the time, even when they eat well. Unfortunately, too much cholesterol can gum up the arteries, causing heart attacks and strokes.

ESCAPING YOUR GENES

If you or someone you know has inherited the unlucky tendency toward high cholesterol, don't despair. Medication is essential for some people. It works better when they eat well, too.


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Few drugs are prescribed more frequently in the U.S. than those intended to lower cholesterol. High cholesterol worries doctors and patients because it can raise the risk of heart disease.

For more information, see:

nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/cholesterol.html

americanheart.org

webmd.com/cholesterol management