The Top 5 Cholesterol Myths

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American men rank 83rd in the world in average total cholesterol.

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Even if you think you know everything there is to know about cholesterol, there may be a few more surprises in store. Check out these common myths about high cholesterol; find out whos most likely to have it, what types of food can cause it, and why—sometimes—cholesterol isnt a bad word.

Myth 1: Americans have the highest cholesterol in the world

One of the world’s enduring stereotypes is the fat American with cholesterol-clogged arteries who is a Big Mac or two away from a heart attack. As a nation, we could certainly use some slimming down, but when it comes to cholesterol levels we are solidly middle-of-the-road.

The Cholesterol-Inflammation Connection

Inflammation is cholesterol’s partner in crime  Read moreAccording to 2005 World Health Organization statistics, American men rank 83rd in the world in average total cholesterol, and American women rank 81st; in both cases, the average number is 197 mg/dL, just below the Borderline-High Risk category. That is very respectable compared to the top-ranked countries: In Colombia the average cholesterol among men is a dangerous 244, while the women in Israel, Libya, Norway, and Uruguay are locked in a four-way tie at 232.Myth 2: Eggs are evil

It’s true that eggs have a lot of dietary cholesterol—upwards of 200 mg, which is more than two-thirds of the American Heart Association’s recommended limit of 300 mg a day. But dietary cholesterol isn’t nearly as dangerous as was once thought. Only some of the cholesterol in food ends up as cholesterol in your bloodstream, and if your dietary cholesterol intake rises, your body compensates by producing less cholesterol of its own.

While you don’t want to overdo it, eating an egg or two a few times a week isn’t dangerous. In fact, eggs are an excellent source of protein and contain unsaturated fat, a so-called good fat.

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Cholesterol-Lowering Supplements: What Works, What Doesn't

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If youre looking for an all-natural way to lower your cholesterol—in addition to watching what you eat and exercising—there are plenty of dietary supplements on the market that claim to do the trick. Each year seems to bring a new alternative remedy—garlic, ginseng, or red yeast rice, for example—that users tout as the next best thing to get cholesterol under control.

But just because your Uncle Jack says a supplement worked miracles on his cholesterol doesnt mean it will work for you. In fact, his success may be due to a placebo effect or a diet overhaul he neglected to mention.

Though not always perfect, scientific studies are the best way to determine if nonprescription remedies really work. Below, we break down what the research does—and doesnt—say about the benefits of the most popular alternative remedies for lowering cholesterol.

To see what these supplements look like, view this slideshow.

Artichoke leaf extract

• What it is: The dried extract of the artichoke leaf is also known as Cynara scolymus.

• The evidence: In 2000, German researchers performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial using nearly 150 adults with total cholesterol over 280—well into what the American Heart Association (AHA) considers “high risk” territory. The participants who took an artichoke supplement for six weeks saw their levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, fall by 23%, on average, compared to just 6% in the placebo group.

These are promising numbers, but they havent been replicated. A more recent, three-month trial of similar design found that total cholesterol fell by an average of 4% among participants taking artichoke leaf extract, but the researchers found no measurable impact on either LDL or high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as good cholesterol. They suggested that differences in the health of the participants and the potency of the supplements—the patients in the second study received a dose about 30% smaller—could explain the discrepancy between the results of the two studies.

• The bottom line: There have been very few quality studies conducted on artichoke leaf extract, and the mixed results suggest that more evidence is needed to confirm its effect on cholesterol. Dont expect your LDL to plummet if you take artichoke supplements.

Fenugreek

• What it is: Fenugreek is a seed (often ground into a powder) that has been used since the days of ancient Egypt and is available in capsule form.

• The evidence: Several studies from the 1990s have reported that, in high doses, various fenugreek seed preparations can lower total cholesterol and LDL, in some cases dramatically. (One study recorded an LDL drop of 38%.) Almost without exception, however, the studies have been small and of poor quality, which casts some doubt on the validity of the results.

Fenugreek contains a significant amount of dietary fiber (anywhere from 20% to 50%, analyses have shown), and some experts speculate that the purported cholesterol-lowering effect of fenugreek may in fact be attributed largely to its fiber content.

• The bottom line: Despite the studies frequently cited as proof of fenugreeks ability to lower cholesterol, there is not enough evidence to support its use.

Fiber

• What it is: Soluble fiber is a type of dietary fiber found in oats, barley, bran, peas, and citrus fruits, as well as in dietary supplements. (Though it is good for the heart in other ways, insoluble fiber does not affect blood cholesterol.)

• The evidence: In 1999, a team of Harvard Medical School researchers conducted a meta-analysis of nearly 70 clinical trials that examined the effect of soluble fiber on cholesterol levels. High soluble fiber intake was associated with reductions in both LDL and total cholesterol in 60% to 70% of the studies they examined. For each gram of soluble fiber that the participants of the various studies added to their daily diet, their LDL levels fell by about 2 points. (The average time frame was seven weeks.)

The amount of fiber youd need to eat to significantly lower your LDL is a bit unwieldy. Most people eat far less than the 25 grams of dietary fiber recommended as a minimum by most health organizations—and only about 20% of your total fiber intake is likely to be soluble. (Eating three bowls of oatmeal a day will only yield about 3 grams of soluble fiber, according to the Harvard researchers.) Taking daily fiber supplements can help, but they can cause some gastrointestinal side effects if taken regularly and can interfere with some prescription medications.

• The bottom line: A diet high in soluble fiber can lower your LDL. The effect is likely to be relatively modest, however, and loading up on soluble fiber may be impractical.

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15 Factors That Affect a Woman’s Fertility

Trouble getting pregnant? Here are some possible causes of female infertility.

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by Amanda MacMillan

Most people know that a woman’s fertility decreases as she gets older, but even during her most fertile (and otherwise healthy) years, lifestyle choices and external factors can affect a woman’s chances of having a healthy baby.

“Women who want to increase their chances of getting pregnant often don’t know the best things to do or what to watch out for,” says Francisco Arredondo, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist in San Antonio, Texas. Here are some of factors that do (or don’t) affect a woman’s fertility, and what you can do about them if you are trying to conceive.

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Menopause Causes Cholesterol Jump, Study Shows

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FRIDAY, Dec. 11, 2009 (Health.com) — Doctors have known for years that a woman’s risk of developing heart disease rises after menopause, but they weren’t exactly sure why. It wasn’t clear whether the increased risk is due to the hormonal changes associated with menopause, to aging itself, or to some combination of the two.

Now, we have at least part of the answer: A new study shows beyond a doubt that menopause, not the natural aging process, is responsible for a sharp increase in cholesterol levels.

This seems to be true of all women, regardless of ethnicity, according to the study, which will be published next week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

“As they approach menopause, many, many women show a very striking increase in cholesterol levels, which in turn increases risk for later heart disease,” says the lead author of the study, Karen A. Matthews, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Over a 10-year period, Matthews and her colleagues followed 1,054 U.S. women as they went through menopause. Each year the researchers tested study participants for cholesterol, blood pressure, and other heart disease risk factors such as blood glucose and insulin.

In nearly every woman, the study found, cholesterol levels jumped around the time of menopause. (Menopause usually occurs around age 50 but can happen naturally as early as 40 and as late as 60.)

In the two-year window surrounding their final menstrual period, the women’s average LDL, or bad cholesterol, rose by about 10.5 points, or about 9%. The average total cholesterol level also increased substantially, by about 6.5%.

Other risk factors, such as insulin and systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading), also rose during the study, but they did so at a steady rate, suggesting that the increases—unlike those for cholesterol—were related to aging, not menopause. Of all the risk factors measured in the study, the changes in cholesterol were the most dramatic.

The jumps in cholesterol reported in the study could definitely have an impact on a womans health, says Vera Bittner, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who wrote an editorial accompanying Matthewss study.

“The changes don’t look large, but given that the typical woman lives several decades after menopause, any adverse change becomes cumulative over time,” says Dr. Bittner. “If somebody had cholesterol levels at the lower ranges of normal, the small change may not make a difference. But if somebody’s risk factors were already borderline in several categories, this increase may tip them over the edge and put them in a risk category where treatment may be beneficial.”

In a first, the study did not find any measurable differences in the impact of menopause on cholesterol across ethnic groups.

Experts have been unsure how ethnicity may affect the link between menopause and cardiovascular risk, because most research to date has been conducted in Caucasian women. Matthews and her colleagues were able to explore the role of ethnicity because their research is part of the larger Study of Womens Health Across the Nation (SWAN), which includes substantial numbers of African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American women.

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13 Zinc-Rich Foods

A little bit of zinc does your body plenty of good. These sources of the crucial mineral will help keep your immune system (and much more) in tip-top shape.

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by Catherine DiBenedetto

Zinc plays a big role in your body, from wound healing to your perceptions of taste and smell to the synthesis of protein and DNA. The mineral can even affect your libido: Zinc aids the production of testosterone, a sex hormone. But the nutrient is most famous for its immune-boosting perks. It helps balance your body’s response to infection, preventing out-of-control inflammation, according to the findings of a Cell Reports study. And a 2013 review suggested it may even help treat a common cold.

Read on to learn how much zinc you need—and how to get it.

Next: How much zinc do you need?

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What Your Heart Needs Now

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The statistics are sobering: Heart disease is the number-one killer of women in the United States. And an estimated eight million women have it. Whats more, a new study shows that in recent years, the overall heart disease risk for Americans—especially women—hasnt continued the healthy downward trend it showed in previous decades. Ready for some good news? You can do more to prevent heart disease than almost any other serious condition. Start with these age-specific steps.

Your 30s

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Declare a trans fat-free zone

Commonly used to extend the shelf life of packaged foods like cookies and crackers, and also found in margarine, trans fats pack a double whammy: They raise bad cholesterol (LDL), while lowering good, protective HDL (your LDL should be below 100; your HDL, above 60). In a Harvard University study, women with the highest level of trans fats in their blood had triple the risk of heart disease. Take a cue from major U.S. cities like New York and Philadelphia (which have banned trans fats from restaurants), and pitch them out of your pantry.On ingredient lists, they show up as “hydrogenated” and “partially hydrogenated” oils. But scrutinize any product touted as “trans fat-free” at the supermarket too: Some manufacturers have replaced hydrogenated oils with tropical oils that are high in saturated fat, which also raises LDL cholesterol. Eating out in a city where trans fats arent banned? Skip the fried stuff; many restaurants still use the oils for frying. pregnancy-hear

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Use your ob-gyn as a partner

During your prime reproductive years, you may visit your ob-gyn more than you go to your regular doctor. Make sure you talk to her about your heart as well as gynecological health, particularly because blood pressure (BP) can rise if youre taking birth control pills or when youre pregnant.

Women who develop preeclampsia (pregnancy-related hypertension) are prone to heart disease later in life. And, in general, “how your heart handles pregnancy offers a snapshot of how it will look in middle age,” says Sharonne Hayes, MD, director of the Womens Heart Clinic at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn. To keep BP from creeping up (the safe zone is lower than 120 over 80), substitute herbs and spices for salt; try cumin for a healthy twist on popcorn, for instance. Too much salt causes blood vessels to retain water, which can lead to high BP.

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Simmer down

If you boil over when the shopper in front of you has 16 grocery items in the 15-or-fewer lane, beware: Losing your temper can damage your arteries, according to research by C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, director of the Womens Heart Center and endowed chair in Womens Health at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. “Raging causes your blood pressure to surge and stay up there,” Dr. Merz says. Thats why its crucial to get a grip on anger at an early age, before it takes a toll. Instead of venting when a situation makes you furious, take a few deep breaths and describe to yourself whats making you angry. That should help you calm down.

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12 Weight-Loss Secrets From Celebrity Chefs

These pros work for some of the biggest names (and hottest bods) in the business. Now they’re ready to dish out their best advice to you.

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by Elizabeth Jenkins

From Health magazine

When it comes to whipping up delicious, diet-friendly food, Hollywood chefs know all the tricks. They have to—it’s their job to help their A-list clients hang on to those amazing bodies. “For celebrities, looking good goes beyond losing a few pounds or eating well. Each of them has a multimillion-dollar image to maintain,” says Frank Miller, who has been the personal chef of Halle Berry and Mary J. Blige. “The challenge lies in finding the right balance between serving them the foods they crave and the ones they need to burn fat, cut calories and get camera-ready.” Check out how Miller and six other chefs do just that.

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6 Things Your Looks Say About Your Health

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Got lackluster locks? Or a scaly patch on an elbow? Your body may be trying to tell you something. “There are huge links between how we appear on the outside and what’s happening inside,” says Ramsey Markus, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Even the most common beauty woes, like brittle nails and a dull complexion, can hint at issues beneath the surface. Give yourself a once-over for these six superficial signs you should see your doctor.

If you have: Thick, dark facial or body hair

It might mean: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). “We’re not talking about a few wispy strands,” says Zoe Stallings, MD, a family physician at Duke Medicine in Durham, N.C. “This is a thick coat of ‘I have sideburns that tweezers can’t handle’ hair.” It tends to sprout in places where men grow hair (like the cheeks, chin, chest and back) and may be due to elevated levels of male sex hormones—a common symptom of the endocrine disorder PCOS, which can increase your risk of infertility and diabetes. Ask your doc for a blood test. Birth control pills and lifestyle changes like losing excess weight (even just a few pounds) can reduce symptoms. Your MD might also prescribe a steroid to help correct the hormone imbalance or a cream that inhibits the growth of facial hair. Another option: talking to your dermatologist about laser hair removal. “The pro is that it’s effective,” Dr. Stallings says. “The con is the price.” Each session costs around $300, though some insurance plans will cover the treatment.

If you have: A brittle nail

It might mean: Fungus. It’s disgusting but true—your nail bed is a perfect home for fungi. “They like having a warm, moist layer of skin to feed off,” Dr. Markus explains. When a parasite moves in, your nail may start to split or crumble at the edges. A derm might prescribe medication. It may also help to limit exposure to moisture by wearing gloves to do the dishes or changing socks after a workout.

If the nails on both hands are brittle, you can probably blame overzealous hand washing; a supplement could do the trick. Vitamins containing keratin, in particular, improve nail strength, according to a 2014 study.

Related: Lifestyle Changes to Look Younger

If you have: A scaly red patch

It might mean: Psoriasis. This rash isn’t just a skin problem. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that can crop up at any age and is linked to inflammation throughout the body (experts are unsure if psoriasis causes inflammation or vice versa). Lesions—typically on the scalp, elbows and knees—are a common symptom, but moderate to severe psoriasis is also connected to cardiovascular disease, according to a longitudinal study published last fall. Fortunately, “your risk of heart attack goes down when you treat a more severe case of psoriasis,” says Jennifer Chen, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Stanford School of Medicine. See your derm: A variety of oral and topical meds, as well as phototherapy, can reduce outbreaks.

If you have: Persistent acne

It might mean: A hormonal imbalance. Breakouts aren’t just for teens and tweens. “Acne may recur during perimenopause,” Dr. Chen explains. As estrogen and progesterone levels drop, your hormonal balance can tip toward testosterone, which triggers a surge in the production of pore-clogging oil. “Like menopause itself, this acne varies in duration and intensity,” Dr. Chen says, though the pimples often appear on the jawline. The good news, Dr. Chen says: “We have great medications to prevent acne. You just have to be proactive about it.”

If you have: Dry, blotchy skin

It might mean: An omega-3 deficiency. “As we age, our sebaceous glands produce less oil that lubricates skin,” says Valori Treloar, MD, co-author of The Clear Skin Diet. Omega-3 fatty acids help keep your complexion healthy-looking in part because they protect dry skin from developing inflammation. If you have a deficiency, your skin may become itchy and blotchy, Dr. Treloar says. Eat plenty of foods rich in omega-3s, like walnuts, flaxseed and cold water fish. Still worried you’re not getting enough? Consider taking a fish oil supplement.

If you have: Thinning hair

It might mean: Hypothyroidism. When your thyroid gland is underactive, too many of your hair follicles go into resting mode. As strands naturally shed, they aren’t replaced, and “women start to notice that their scalp is showing,” Dr. Stallings says. Synthetic hormones and other remedies can help. Another possible culprit: low estrogen. For women in menopause, a B complex multi with collagen may restore thinning tresses, Dr. Stallings says. If you’ve just had a baby (another cause of an estrogen dip), don’t fret: Your hair’s volume should return to normal by the time your little one is six months old.

Related: 18 Style Mistakes That Age You

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The Best Sneakers For Walking

The right walking shoes for every need, from speed walking to a long day at work.

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When walking you need your shoes to handle that repetitive heel-to-toe rolling motion. After all, “a 150-pound woman’s body encounters between 900,000 and 1,350,00 pounds of impact over a three-mile walk,” says Paul Langer, DPM, author of Great Feet for Life.

So make sure your kicks are comfy and supportive—a poor fit can lead to injury. And choose ones that are secure across the instep and in the heel, but roomy enough to wiggle your toes. Here, shoes that will protect your feet whether you’re fitness walking or simply commuting.

Watch the video: Walk Right  

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Running With Your Dog: 17 Dos and Don’ts

Health, safety, and behavioral tips for logging miles with your four-legged fitness partner.

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by Amanda MacMillan

Your dog may be the ultimate exercise partner. Think about it: dogs are always eager to spend more time with you, they have plenty of excess energy to burn, and temptation to skip a scheduled sweat session melts away when your furry friend stands at the front door, leash in mouth, ready to log a few miles with you.

Before you hit the pavement, though, you’ll need to train your pooch to run with you. Here’s how to make your run enjoyable and rewarding for both you and your best (furry) friend.

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