Doc: Giving up bread creates mystery cholesterol drop
Dear Dr. Roach: Something’s been puzzling me. I’m a 71-year-old female, and my cholesterol tends to hover around the 240 mark. However, I had to give up bread for several weeks due to oral surgery, and my next blood test results showed my cholesterol had plummeted 40 points, to 206. (I actually had them double-check, since I thought they had given me someone else’s report!) I asked my doctor about this, but he didn’t know of any reason for it to happen. My husband thinks it may have something to do with the yeast. Do you have any ideas?
Dear R.R.: No, I don’t think it’s the yeast; I think it’s because you are eating fewer carbohydrates from bread, which get quickly converted to sugar and enters the blood. Sugar has effects on blood cholesterol (especially on triglycerides). Although a 20 percent drop is higher than the average, it’s not out of the expected range.
The other thing that is often forgotten is what you changed your diet to. If you ate overall fewer calories, you may have lost a few pounds, and sometimes that can have a big beneficial effect on cholesterol. It also may be the case that you ate more fiber from vegetables, nuts and fruits, which in itself can help reduce cholesterol.
It was wise to double-check, because although the lab only rarely makes mistakes, the level in the body does vary a bit. It’s possible that the 240 was higher than your average and the 206 was lower. Following the trend helps prevent those kinds of errors.
Dear Dr. Roach: There is a lot of information about how much one should exercise that doesn’t seem to apply to seniors. I am a 76-year-old man in acceptable health for my age. I have never fallen, but my balance has declined some. I walk about 30 leisurely minutes a day, but I wouldn’t say any of the walk could be defined as “cardio.” When walking on uneven ground, I use a walking stick. I am active in my yard; I mow my lawns and tend vegetable and flower beds. Is this enough of an exercise regimen?
Dear L.S.: You are doing a lot better than most people who are 76. The optimal for you depends, because your exercise regimen has to work for your life. I can say that people who exercise a bit more than you do (including some work with weights and some more vigorous exercise to get the heart rate up — that’s what defines “cardio”) are likely to have a slightly lower risk of many diseases; however, it’s very wise to be cautious when you have a balance issue, even if you have never fallen. Using a walking stick is great if it helps you (many people have written to say that they use one or two sticks to help maintain balance).
What you don’t want is an exercise regimen that you won’t like to do, because people quickly quit exercising if they aren’t enjoying at least some aspect of it. So, keep doing what you are doing: It will help prevent loss of balance, strength and function.
Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.