More Dietary Dilemmas

August 16, 1992

Wouldn't you know it -- just as cholesterol is established as a dietary no-no, along comes word that too little cholesterol may be just as dangerous.

Coronary disease is still the No. 1 killer of Americans. The link between high cholesterol levels and heart problems is so strong that medical policies in this country are now heavily biased toward lowering cholesterol levels. Americans have, on average, cholesterol counts of around 200 units, and blanket policies geared toward lowering those levels would inevitably push some people below 160.

New large-scale studies (including both men and women) show that people with very low cholesterol levels have mortality rates as high as those of people with elevated cholesterol levels. They aren't as likely to die from heart disease, but their greater susceptibility to death from suicide, homicide, strokes, lung and liver diseases or certain types of cancer means the end result is the same.

Now the question is asked: Does the bias toward lowering cholesterol levels do more harm than good by exposing some people to risks they would not otherwise incur? The studies addressing this question will take years to produce conclusions.

The evidence so far does nothing to disprove the dangers of high cholesterol. People with cholesterol around 200 or above -- and that's most of us -- should continue to worry about consuming too much of it.

As we see it, the cholesterol dilemma throws new light on a problem that has long plagued human beings -- the inability to embrace moderation. The best advice we've heard on nutrition or any other subject came from a wise Kansan whose favorite bit of wisdom was elegant in its simplicity: "Moderation in all things -- including moderation."

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