Does Religion Really Affect Your Cholesterol?

According to a new MASALA study, there might be a link between religion and high levels of “bad” cholesterol — but the study misses out on diverse diets within religions.


Shabnaj Chowdhury


July 11, 2019

South Asians have four times the risk of heart disease compared to the general population. The Mediators in Atherosclerosis in South Asians Living in America (MASALA) study, released in 2019 by the University of California, San Francisco and Northwestern University, investigates the phenomenon. Doctors in the United States may fail to catch symptoms of heart disease among South Asians since they tend to exhibit them as much as a decade earlier than other groups. 

A new study from the same group — published in March 2019 – suggests that for some South Asians, there may be an additional link between religion and cholesterol. Though the link is tenuous — for example, the study doesn’t account for young South Asians — it suggests that South Asians who are religious have more “bad” cholesterol than those who aren’t religious. 

Doctors studied 889 individuals, most of whom are first-generation South Asians from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, between 2010 and 2013; the average age was 55, and 53% were men. On average, participants spent half their lives in the U.S. Within the cohort, 74% identified as Hindu or Jain; 8% were Sikh; 7% were Muslim; 6% were Christian, Buddhist, or Zoroastrian; and 6% were non-affiliated (non-religious). 

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