Is it Okay to Eat Before Your Tests?
Breaking from breakfast to take a blood test is never fun, and may be one reason why many people never take the time to have their cholesterol levels tested. The good news from some doctors is that for most people, it’s probably okay not to fast before a cholesterol test.
Turns out, if you don't already have high triglycerides (a reading above 400 milligrams per deciliter of blood) and you're not diabetic, forget the fasting. Enjoy a healthy breakfast. Triglycerides are a form of fat found within foods as well as within the body. When you eat more calories than are needed for metabolism, they are then retrieved from fat cells and released into the bloodstream to be used as a quick energy source when the body needs it.
High-density lipoproteins, or HDLs, often referred to as good cholesterol, work as waste removal carriers. They transport the cholesterol from your bloodstream to your liver so your system can get rid of it. About a third to a quarter of cholesterol in your blood is carried by HDL. Because of this, higher levels of HDL cholesterol are desirable.
Low-density lipoproteins, or LDLs, often referred to as bad cholesterol, keep cholesterol in your blood circulating through your bloodstream, which can leave plaque on artery walls. Over time, this accumulation of plaque can increase risk of hardening of the arteries. Therefore, lower LDL cholesterol levels are desirable.
High blood triglycerides generally indicate lower HDL levels, along with a higher risk of heart attack or stroke. Also, underlying diseases or genetic disorders such as diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity & insulin resistance can keep high triglycerides levels elevated.
Why diabetics? Because their triglycerides tend to be higher, and triglycerides are the blood lipids that shoot up after eating a fatty meal.
You would still need to eat a really fatty meal to move the triglyceride levels up very much. For most people, though, triglycerides aren't the most important numbers. In recent years doctors have shifted to looking at the ratio of different fats in the blood rather than the individual numbers. So, for instance, your doctor might want to know the relationship between total cholesterol in your blood your HDL levels.
That ratio tends not to shift very much, even right after eating. This is why some doctors have started questioning the need for the fasting cholesterol test, which in most cases requires a morning visit to a blood lab after skipping food for 9 to 12 hours.
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that most of us can skip the recommended eight-hour fast and still get reliable cholesterol measurements. The Canadian researchers examined medical records from nearly 210,000 adults who had their cholesterol levels tested in 2011 and found that total cholesterol levels and levels of HDL cholesterol remain fairly steady regardless of whether a person eats within an hour of the test or abstains from eating for up to 16 hours beforehand.
Doctors would rather have a non-fasting sample than no sample at all. They frequently find that patients who haven’t fasted don’t return to get a blood test later on.
This is not the last word on cholesterol tests. Even after the Canadian study, many doctors still think of fasting tests should be the norm.
Why? Doctors like to have things standardized and it’s hard to break with tradition.
If there's a cholesterol test in your future, talk with your doctor ahead of time about whether it's OK in his or her book to eat before your blood gets drawn.
Changing from an unhealthy diet to a healthy diet can reduce a cholesterol level. However, dietary changes alone rarely lower a cholesterol level enough to change a person's risk of cardiovascular disease from a high-risk category to a lower-risk category. However, any extra reduction in cholesterol due to diet will help.
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