FEBRUARY 01, 2008

Low HDL Levels May Hinder Stroke Recovery

A study from the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network (Philadelphia), shows that low blood levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) (the "good" cholesterol) have been found to increase the risk of memory problems and greater disability in patients after a stroke. The study also found that high levels of homocysteine, an amino acid found in meat, also raises poststroke disability.

Study author George C. Newman, MD, PhD, chairman of the department of neurosensory sciences at the network, said in a statement, "People with low levels of HDL, high levels of homocysteine, and diabetes are twice as likely as those without such problems to have poorer cognitive function and greater disability after stroke."

The researchers looked at 3680 men and women over the age of 35 years in Canada, Scotland, and the United States who had experienced a mild-to-moderate stroke within the previous 3 months. The patients were tested for cognitive ability and disability at the start of the study and were followed for the next 2 years. The researchers saw several factors that were shown to herald poststroke memory and disability problems, which included lower HDL levels, higher homocysteine levels, increased age, diabetes, and recurrent stroke. The findings were published in the November 27, 2007, issue of Neurology.

Why Patients Stop Their Meds

Researchers at Radiant Research Inc (Chicago, IL), have found that, in spite of the many benefits of taking cholesterol-lowering statin medications, patients stop taking them early.

Researchers studied the database of a major pharmacy and found that the rates of statin discontinuation among >768,000 patients were: 28% after 3 months, 41% after 6 months, and 59% after 1 year. Patients "who were on high-dose statins, paid high copayments, or spoke Spanish were significantly more likely to discontinue." The patients who used the Internet or had either heart disease or high blood pressure were less likely to stop taking the medicines.

A separate study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that it takes longer for all women and black men with hypertension and an increased risk of coronary artery disease to bring their low-density lipoprotein (the "bad" cholesterol) levels under control, compared with nonblack men. These differences are likely due to patient differences in access/adherence to lipid-lowering medication therapy, according to the researchers. The findings of both studies were presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in November.

Relationship Between Cholesterol and Stroke Stumps Scientists

Although most medical experts agree on a link between high cholesterol and heart disease, a new study seems to make the connection between cholesterol levels and stroke less clear.

Researchers at Oxford University found that high cholesterol levels in patients in their 70s and 80s actually lower the risk of stroke, but are quick to point out that the high levels still raised the risk of heart attack. They emphasized that, in spite of these confusing data, patients should not stop taking statins, as statins have been proven to lower the risk of stroke. The findings were published in the December 1, 2007, issue of The Lancet.

The team surveyed data on almost 900,000 adult patients who had no heart disease and found the drop in blood cholesterol levels achieved with statins cut the risk of heart disease by more than half in the 40- to 49-year-old age group; by 34% in those aged 50 to 59 years; and 17% in patients between 70 and 89 years of age. Yet total cholesterol levels were only weakly linked with stroke mortality in the 40- to 59-year-old group; and in the 70- to 89-year-old group, higher levels were linked to lower stroke death rates.

Ketchup, Beans Help Lower Cholesterol

Although individuals may not want to have them at the same time, ketchup and cooked dry beans have been found to help lower cholesterol levels in 2 studies.

A study from the University of Oulu in Finland found that ketchup and other tomato products lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. Participants added either 30 g of ketchup or 400 mL of tomato juice to their daily diets for 3 weeks, and in that time, researchers noted a drop in total cholesterol levels by an average of just under 6%, and in LDL levels of almost 13%.

Another study from the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center in North Dakota, showed that volunteers who ate as little as one-half cup of cooked dry beans a day helped significantly lower their total cholesterol levels. Researchers tested 80 volunteers 18 to 55 years of age, half of whom had at least 2 symptoms for metabolic syndrome, which include low high-density lipoprotein levels.

For 12 weeks, participants added either one-half cup cooked dry pinto beans or 1 serving of chicken soup to their daily diets. Those who consumed the pinto beans were found to have markedly lower overall cholesterol levels. The findings were published in the November 2007 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

F A S T   F A C T : Saturated fat is the leading dietary factor that increases blood serum cholesterol.