Frequency of eating and cholesterol.




British Medical Journal

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Cholesterol has received a great deal of press, and medical experts agree that high blood cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. But cholesterol is not an enemy. The body needs cholesterol and manufactures its own supply. Essential for life, cholesterol plays many important roles. Cholesterol, along with other fats, is a key component of cells membranes. The body uses cholesterol as the building material for hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. Bile salts, which break the fat we eat into small particles that can be digested, are composed largely of cholesterol. Cholesterol is our friend, something the body requires, in the right places and amounts. Abnormally high levels of cholesterol in the blood can lead to coronary heart disease and other serious conditions, due to build-up of cholesterol-filled plaque in the arteries. Research has shown that abnormalities in the way cholesterol is transported in the blood are the culprits in setting the stage for arteries to become damaged and clogged with plaque. This is the condition known as "atherosclerosis."

Blood cholesterol levels in men and women begin to rise at about age 20.1 Factors that affect cholesterol levels include diets high in saturated fats, being overweight, little physical activity, aging, and heredity. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal examined the frequency of eating and cholesterol levels among a population in England.

This cross sectional population based study included 14,666 men and women ages 45 to 75 years. The participants in this study were taken from the Norfolk cohort of the European investigation into cancer. The researchers' main outcome measurements were the concentration of blood lipids and the relationship to number of meals eaten daily. The results showed that the total cholesterol and the low-density lipoprotein cholesterol decreased continuously as the daily frequency of eating increased. There was no correlation between the eating frequency and the high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. The average concentrations of cholesterol differed by about 0.25 mmol/l between people who ate more than six times a day and those eating once or twice daily. Cholesterol was lower by about 5% in the groups that ate more frequently. The authors concluded that what you eat as well as how many times you eat both need to be taken into consideration.2


1. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health.
2. Titan SM, et al. Frequency of eating and concentrations of serum cholesterol in the Norfolk population of the European prospective investigation into cancer (EPIC-Norfolk): cross sectional study. BMJ Dec 2001;323:1286.