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September 11 , 2002


National Cholesterol Month Reminder: Emory Cardiologist Says Know Your Numbers And Also Learn Which Fats Can Raise Or Lower Them

September is National Cholesterol Month, time to make sure you know your cholesterol level. It's also an opportunity to learn how what you eat can impact cholesterol and your heart's health.

"We now know it's not as simple as eating less fat," says Emory Heart Center cardiologist Laurence Sperling, M.D. "Not all fat is bad and some kinds are far healthier for your heart than others."

Cholesterol is a soft, fatty substance found in the blood that is needed by the body to form cell membranes and certain hormones. According to the American Heart Association, approximately 100 million Americans (about one-third of the population) have excessive levels of total cholesterol -- when cholesterol is over 200, the risk of heart disease and stroke is increased. Those at greatest risk are the 41 million Americans whose cholesterol is higher than 240.

"Paying attention to the type of fats you eat can go a long way to both lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called 'bad' cholesterol, and raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the artery protective type of 'good' cholesterol, " says Dr. Sperling, Medical Director of Preventive Cardiology at Emory. "And with many people turning to low carbohydrate, high fat diets to lose weight, it's especially important to realize that all fats are not the same."

For example, saturated fats, which are derived primarily from animal products and include the fat found in butter and meat, are known to raise cholesterol levels. Even more detrimental to cholesterol levels are trans fats, created when hydrogen atoms are forced into liquid oils to make them solid at room temperature. "Trans fats, which are often found in snacks and fast foods, raise LDL and lower HDL, just the opposite of what we would like to see happen," notes Dr. Sperling. "To avoid trans fats, read labels and skip foods that contain 'hydrogenated' or 'partially hydrogenated' oils."

Dr. Sperling notes that fats found in nuts, fish and vegetables are far healthier choices for your heart. "Choose polyunsaturated fats like soy products, corn oil, safflower and sunflower oil. And eating monounsaturated fats, including olive oil and almonds, as well as fatty fish like salmon that contain essential fatty acids, can actually help reduce total cholesterol levels," he says.

Dr. Sperling urges common sense when eating any fats. "Fats tend to be high calorie foods, and maintaining a healthy weight is an important way to keep cholesterol at a healthy level, " he says.

In addition to eating a heart healthy diet, Dr. Sperling also advises regular exercise and working with your physician - and taking cholesterol lowering prescription medication if appropriate - to lower high cholesterol levels and reduce heart disease risk.

The Emory Heart Center is comprised of all cardiology services and research at Emory University Hospital (EUH), Emory Crawford Long Hospital (ECLH) Carlyle Fraser Heart Center, the Andreas Gruentzig Cardiovascular Center of Emory University and the Emory Clinic. Ranked in the top ten of U.S. News & World Report's annual survey of the nation's best Heart Centers, the Emory Heart Center has a rich history of excellence in all areas of cardiology - including education, research and patient care. It is also internationally recognized as one of the birthplaces of modern interventional cardiology.

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