NUTRITION
March 19, 2010

Adults: Diet Makes A Difference

It's not too late: Even older adults can lower their cholesterol by eating fish and cutting down on butter and saturated fats.

Older adults can lower their blood cholesterol by making dietary changes, even if they're already taking cholesterol−lowering medication.

This may sound like old news, but it isn't; there has been little research into how older people's cholesterol level responds to dietary changes. Most research in this area has focused on younger individuals.

While the benefit of each dietary change was modest, together they added up. The combination of cutting down on butter and eating more fish and less red meat, which is high in saturated fat, worked best.

A recent study of 900 Australians, aged 49 and up, sought to test the effects of changes in dietary fat consumption on an older group of people. It also tested whether taking cholesterol−lowering medication influenced these effects. The study participants were followed for 10 years. At the outset, 5% were taking a cholesterol lowering medication, usually a statin. This rose to 25% by the end of the study.

Participants who cut down on butter and saturated fats in general had their blood cholesterol decrease. And HDL (good) cholesterol levels rose, while triglyceride levels dropped, as participants ate more fish. The effects from eating fish are thought to be due to their high content of omega−3 fatty acids.

While the benefit of each dietary change was modest, together they added up. The combination of cutting down on butter and eating more fish and less red meat, which is high in saturated fat, worked best. And the overall effects seen were the same whether or not a person was taking a statin.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat two fish meals per week, preferably omega−3 rich fatty fish like salmon and mackerel. They also recommend limiting saturated fat intake to 7% or less a person's total calories.

The benefits of omega−3's may go beyond their effect on a person's cholesterol level. Recent studies suggest that they help lower the risk of age−related vision loss and the risk of dementia.

Basically, the study found the same type of dietary effects on older people that have been found in the rest of the population. While this may not sound earthshaking, there is a need for studies like this to be done. There are many changes in metabolism that occur as a person ages and results of studies on the young and the old do not always give the same results. This one did.

The results of the study were published in January 2010 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

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