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what is cholesterol?
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is fat your poison?
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What is the situation in other countries of the world? We have evidence that a prime factor for the great difference between Americans and peoples in various other countries is diet. For example, let us see what happened the war years of 1940-1945. Consumption of butter, milk, cheese and eggs (all of them high in fats) had to be sharply curtailed. Norwegians reported that heart deaths were reduced by 31 percent during each year among the urban population. France reported that from 1941 to 1945, when Frenchmen were on a low-fat diet, the death rate from heart disease was reduced to 20.6 for each 100,000 persons. Similar studies have been made in various parts of the world—countries such as Finland, Denmark, South Africa, China, and Japan. Statistically the results all point in the same direction: high-fat diet means a high rate of heart deaths.

Is the epidemic confined to older people? What has happened to our way of life to make men between 30 and 45 the preferred victims of the "silent killer" that strikes without warning? And why are more and more young women, long believed to be virtually immune to this disease until after menopause, now falling prey to it? Only recently, we discovered to our amazement that over 90 per cent of our adult population has, to a greater or less degree, a degenerative disease of the arteries that doctors call atherosclerosis. That, as you know, is the term meaning the thickening and narrowing of certain vital blood vessels. It is the way in which the stage is set for heart attacks and strokes. Medical people once thought that it was a result of aging, but the disease is now being found in infants and children.

Does heredity have anything to do with the problem? At this point you are probably wondering why some people have more cholesterol in their blood than others. At present we do not know the whole answer to that question. We do, however, know some of the predisposing factors. One of them is heredity. Some families are affected by what physicians call hereditary familial hyper-(excessive) cholesteremia. In such a family the tendency to high levels of cholesterol in the blood is passed on for several generations. Among members of such families we usually find a large number of individuals who suffer heart attack and strokes. If no heart attacks or strokes have occurred in your own family line, you have at least one protective factor in your favor from the beginning. The second factor is one that is pretty much up to you. It concerns what you eat and how much you eat.

Women have better natural protection against atherosclerosis. If you are a woman, you are less likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke until well after you pass the half century mark. That is when your protective female hormones give out, and you become as susceptible to the disease as men.

Can you reverse damage done to your arteries by excessive fat? If you are already past 30, it naturally occurs to you to wonder whether the damage done to your arteries is permanent, or whether it is reversible. At the present stage of research, doctors cannot answer the question with certainty. Experiments with animals have shown that the condition is reversible in animals. We have evidence that the cholesterol in the arteries is absorbed in children, as shown by Dr. Russell Holman and others. However, this metabolic gift seems to be lost as we grow up. There are many authorities in the field who do believe that since atherosclerosis is reversible in animals, it can also be eliminated even after it is established in humans as well.

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