Low cholesterol is only half the fight against heart disease. There is another culprit in the mix, and researchers say they've found a way to show us, with the milkshake study.
Like cholesterol, triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood. Your triglyceride level is measured after you fast overnight, but understand that whatever the number, as soon as you eat, it's gonna go up. Recently, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute dropped the level it recommends keeping your cholesterol, from under 200 to no more than 150. Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center say that's still not low enough. "We think it still needs to go lower based on our studies. We believe that magic number might be below 100," says Dr. Michael Miller, University of Maryland Medical Center.
That's where the milkshake study comes in. To prove the point, Maryland researchers tracked the breakdown of fat from a milkshake over the course of a day for 50 healthy, non-obese men and women with normal cholesterol. Those with a fasting triglyceride level below 100 peaked on average at 124, but a milkshake given to those with triglycerides below 150 shot up into the danger zone.
"A higher percentage of the time, they were spending with triglyceride levels of about 200 or more," says Miller. Checking triglyceride levels every two hours, the researchers say one high fat milkshake boosted triglyceride levels into the danger zone even though the test was taken on an empty stomach in the morning.
How do you control the problem? Dr. Miller says some may take medication, but more often, exercise and lifestyle changes are enough. The National Heart Blood and Lung Institute recommends that everyone should have a blood cholesterol and triglyceride check every five years starting at age 20. That way, patients who find they have a problem can begin treatment early to reduce their risk of a heart attack later.