Roundup: January's Cholesterol Spike; Top Reason for Liver Transplants; and Fried Foods' Impact on Heart Health

Cholesterol Levels Tend to Spike in January, New Study Finds

It’s not exactly unheard-of to over-indulge during the holidays and gain a couple of pounds. But is there such a thing as a post-holiday cholesterol spike that should cause some concern? Possibly, indicates a new study.

An observational study of 25,764 adults with an average age of 59 found that  holiday food-splurging throughout December increased their low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) — the “bad” cholesterol, as it is commonly known. Danish researchers led the study in Copenhagen. All had blood drawn regularly to test lipid levels. None were on cholesterol-lowering medicines.

Average total cholesterol among the participants over the previous 12 months was 205, just over the guideline of 200 recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA). Average LDL was 116, just above the 100 level considered healthy.

But over three successive years in the first week of January, the average cholesterol was 240 and the average LDL was 143, both deeper into the unhealthy range. In June, the average cholesterol was 197 and the average LDL was 108. Nearly twice as many people had unhealthy lipid levels in January compared to readings in June.

The study, published in the journal Atherosclerosis, took into consideration such factors as sex, age, body mass index, diabetes, smoking, alcohol consumption.

The researchers concluded “a diagnosis of hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) should not be made around Christmas, and our results stress the need for re-testing such patients later and certainly prior to initiation of cholesterol-lowering treatment.”

Because the Danish study was observational, instead of a more precise randomized controlled trial, the highest standard of clinical research, the results cannot necessarily be applied to the full Danish population or to other countries. However, researchers don’t believe their findings are unique to the group they examined. Other people —including Americans—tend to over-indulge in rich or unhealthy foods during the holidays, they said.

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Alcohol-linked Liver Disease Overtakes Hep C as Top Reason for Liver Transplants in U.S.

Alcohol-associated liver disease has surpassed hepatitis C as the No. 1 reason for liver transplants in the United States, according to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

An estimated 17,000 Americans are on waiting lists for a liver transplant. A major factor in the shift away from hepatitis C is that hep C has become easier to treat with drugs. Hep C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, sometimes leading to serious liver damage.

However, another factor could by that an increasing amount of data becoming available within the transplant community as to a patient’s history of alcohol and addiction — and when a candidate combating these issues can qualify for a liver transplant.

Of almost 33,000 liver transplant patients since 2002 who were studied, researchers from the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) found 36.7 percent of them had alcohol-associated liver disease, or ALD, in 2016, up from 24.2 percent in 2002.

There have been recent changes in the management of ALD, “including a shift in attitudes toward mandated periods of alcohol abstinence before liver transplant, frequently referred to as the 6-month rule,” researchers said. Shortening the mandated period of alcohol abstinence would allow more patients with ALD to survive until liver transplant.

“Across the country … people are changing their minds,” said Brian P. Lee, M.D., the study’s lead author and a UCSF gastroenterology and hepatology fellow. “More and more providers are willing to transplant patients with ALD.”

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Fried Foods Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Disease in Women Over 50

Eating fried foods is not a healthy habit and it’s commonly known that a diet heavy in fried offerings is bad for your heart. But a new study published in The BMJ goes further by providing details on how bad fried foods can be for one’s health over a period of years, especially for women.

Specifically, researchers found that fried foods can increase the risk of heart disease and death in women over 50.

Researchers looked at the health data and nutritional habits of nearly 107,000 postmenopausal women who took part in a major health study between 1993 and 1998. Then they followed their health through the beginning of 2017.

Researchers found that compared with women who ate no fried foods, those who ate fried chicken once a week or more had 12 percent increased risk of premature death from any cause — and an 11 percent increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Women who ate fried fish once a week or more had a 7 percent increased risk of early death from any cause and a 12 percent increased risk of cardiovascular death, compared with those who ate no fried foods.

“These are modest associations,” said the study’s senior author, Wei Bao, M.D., an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa. “And fried food is just one component of an overall diet. But it is probably a good idea at least to reduce portion size and frequency of consumption of fried food.”

It is important to understand the associations between fried foods and health outcomes because 25 to 36 percent U.S. adults consume foods, usually fried, from fast food restaurants every day, researchers emphasized.

Among the conclusions the study’s authors note is “Reducing the consumption of fried foods, especially fried chicken and fried fish/shellfish, could have a clinically meaningful effect across the public health spectrum.”

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