Today’s Headlines: Cholesterol, Insulin and Oatmeal

The longer you have high cholesterol, the worse it is for you. You’ve probably heard that high cholesterol is bad for your heart, but doctors have just gained a new understanding of how your risk for heart disease can change depending on how long your cholesterol is high. “Having high cholesterol in your 30s and 40s increases your risk for heart disease, and the longer it stays elevated, the greater the risk. A study recorded how many years each of the subjects had had elevated cholesterol levels. After controlling for sex, smoking, diabetes and other conditions that influence heart disease risk, the study found that cardiovascular disease rates increased 4.4 percent with age for those who had never had elevated cholesterol, 8.1 percent for those who had had it for one to 10 years, and 16.5 percent for those who had had it for 11 to 20 years.” The study didn’t look at what the effects of treating this early high cholesterol would be, but researchers are hoping to start new studies in the future to see how changing cholesterol levels early on, either with lifestyle or with medications, might affect this heart disease risk. (NYT)

Insulin may be used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. Diabetics commonly take insulin to control their blood sugar, but new research indicates that it may also help Alzheimer’s patients. “The study randomly assigned 60 adults with mild cognitive impairment or mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease to be given, via nasal spray, 20- or 40-milligram doses of insulin detemir (Levemir), a man-made insulin that is acts in the body longer than natural insulin or a placebo daily for three weeks. Standardized tests given at the start and end of the study showed that working memory, sometimes thought of as short-term memory, improved for those given 40 milligrams of insulin but not for those given the smaller dose or the placebo.” The study is the first to show that insulin improves memory and may be helpful in those with early dementia. While the results are promising, “the study involved a relatively small number of participants and lasted a short time; a larger and longer study would be needed to adequately test effectiveness and safety.” But because insulin is already known to be safe, it could move into regular use for Alzheimer’s sooner than most drugs. (Washington Post)

You should pick oatmeal over the frosted flakes. Deciding what to get for breakfast at the supermarket can be a daunting task since cereal companies have used flashy marketing to draw your eyes away from the more traditional options. But new research indicates oatmeal should probably be your breakfast staple. “Scientists randomly assigned 36 people to each receive three different breakfasts: quick-cook oatmeal, sugared corn flakes or 1.5 cups of water. They asked participants to rate their hunger and fullness before and after the breakfast and periodically until a lunch test meal 3 hours later.” The researchers then measured how much the participants ate at lunch and checked on their blood hormones to see how their body responded to the food. “The results showed higher ratings of fullness, lower ratings of hunger, and 31% fewer calories consumed at lunch after eating oatmeal compared to sugared corn flakes or water. Overweight subjects, in particular, felt more full and ate 50% fewer calories at lunch after eating oatmeal.” The authors think the effect is a result of the way the body digests oatmeal. Compared to frosted flakes, oatmeal is released into the intestines for digestion more slowly than frosted flakes. That means you feel full longer and feel less of a need to gorge at lunch. (Press release)