Choles­terol Plum­mets Af­ter Giv­ing Up Bread

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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? -- R.R.

AN­SWER: 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? -- L.S.

AN­SWER: 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.

Dr. Roach re­grets that he is un­able to an­swer individual letters, but will in­cor­po­rate them in the col­umn when­ever pos­si­ble. Read­ers may email ques­tions to ToYourGood­Health@med. cor­nell.edu.

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