Atherogenic Diets: Are They Bad For Your Health?

Atherogenic diets contribute to several diseases that could significantly impact your quality of life. In the majority of people, these diseases ultimately lead to their demise. Heart disease, vascular disease, liver disease, high blood pressure, endothelial dysfunction, and increased total cholesterol could result from atherogenic diets.

Lowering cholesterol could decrease heart disease and stroke rates.1 However, atherogenic diets tend to increase cholesterol in the blood. Hence, this could be an example of how atherogenic diets could affect your health. 

An atherogenic diet encourages the gradual blocking of your arteries. Blocking your blood vessels means that they get narrower, with less blood flowing through them.2 Blood must flow adequately in the arteries. After all, it is by this means that blood transports nutrients and oxygen to the body's organs. The body's organs and tissues need nutrients and oxygen to thrive. 

Narrowing of the blood vessels raises the workload of the heart. Therefore, the heart would have to pump harder in order to propel blood through the narrow vessels. Increasing the heart's workload this way is of no benefit to your heart. The heart would need to increase its muscle mass to pump harder, ultimately leading to an enlarged heart. Eventually, it gets to a point when the heart can no longer keep up, leading to heart failure.

Furthermore, people who consume tremendous amounts of an atherogenic diet are prone to overweight and obesity. Overweight and obesity are associated with high blood pressure. High blood pressure is also associated with heart disease and stroke. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 17.9 million people die each year from cardiovascular diseases.3 

In addition, atheromatous diets tend to be high in fat. Increasing dietary fat may contribute to a higher storing of fat in organs like the liver. Such an increase could affect the normal functioning of the liver and lead to severe liver diseases. Some functions of the liver are as follows:

  • elimination of waste substances
  • storing of excess glucose as glycogen
  • making plasma proteins, including immune factors
  • producing some clotting factors

All the functions of the liver would be affected in severe liver disease. The fatty liver disease could lead to liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and ultimately liver failure.4 

About Atherogenic Diets: What they are

A famous quote is: 'one must eat to live and not eat to live.' Although food is one of the pleasures of life, the main aim of eating is to survive. Therefore, it is essential to strive for health as we strive for taste. Interestingly, foods high in fats and oil tend to taste great. However, there is no reason why we cannot enjoy tasty meals and still not be healthy. 

Therefore, it is helpful to know what atherogenic diets are so as to minimise their consumption. After all, what we eat and drink makes up our bodies. The main culprits in blocking arteries are foods high in fats and oil. Although we need fats and oil in our meals, excessive amounts tend to tilt the balance against our health. 

Foods that increase your artery build-up risk might be described as atherogenic diets. Animal-based meals are excellent sources of protein. In addition, they tend to be high in fat as well. In order to maintain good health, our meat must be in reasonable portions. Also, specific ways of cooking meat could add fat and oil. One notorious cooking method would be frying. 

Since oil is used in frying, the process tends to increase food's fat and oil content. Crispy fried meat is simply delicious. Yet, too much of it is not in your best interest healthwise. The best way to enjoy fried meat if you cannot avoid it is to observe temperance. Meanwhile, it is not only meat that could be less healthy when fried. Most fried foods have an increased fat and oil content after the cooking process.

Healthier ways of cooking foods include boiling, steaming and roasting. Such methods do not add to the fat and oil content. They may take away some of the fat and oil content. For example, you may notice some oil coming out of your meat as you roast it. The process shows some fats being eliminated from the meat. 

Oils contribute to atherogenesis. These include widespread healthy oils such as coconut oil, olive oil, rapeseed, etc. After oil, they are oil. They are supposed to be used sparingly in our foods.  

Pastries are also notorious for being high in fats and oil. A lot of pastry-making methods involve adding butter and oil. Butter and flour form the base of most pastry crusts. Since butter is high in fat, it is not surprising that pastries tend to be high in fat. 

However, there are pastries with reduced fat and oil content. Switching to them is a good idea if you are a pastry lover. Again, regulating your portions and frequency of eating such pastries is crucial for your health. Interestingly, a lot of pastries tend to have meaty fillings. However, there are other filling alternatives. You might be surprised that the alternative fillings could taste good too. 

The various spreads we use for our bread slices during breakfast might be high in fat and hence atherogenic. Your margarine is likely made from animal fat or vegetable oil. According to BBC good food, a block of butter is compressed fat.5 So while your toast might not taste as good without these spreads, you might be heaping a lot of fat on your food. 

Alternatively, there are relatively healthier spreads on the market. Plant-based spreads might be better healthwise but be warned, they also contain fats and oils and can build up when overly used. Examples of plant-based spreads include peanut butter and avocado. These could also elevate your plain toast or cracker taste-wise. 


According to John Hopkins Medicine6, atherogenesis is the thickening of artery walls. It is the process whereby build-up occurs in the arteries. This build-up gradually leads to the narrowing of vessels over time. In effect, some substances in the blood deposit in the vessels and increasingly occupy the space required for adequate blood flow. The causative substances include fatty acids, cholesterol and calcium.

Since the process is gradual, it is frequently uncovered in the elderly when established. It is mainly the resultant narrowing effects that point the health practitioner toward atherogenesis. Unfortunately, there are usually no signs during the initial stages of the build-up. Therefore, it is essential to make lifestyle changes to minimize this build-up as you age. 

Some ways of combating atherogenesis include having a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Generally, a diet rich in vegetables and fruits is more beneficial than having excess carbohydrates, fats and oil. After all, there is such a thing as portion sizes. However, different people may require different nutritional needs. For example, a laborer is likely to require more carbohydrates in his diet than a sedentary worker.

The reasoning is that the labourer requires more energy to do his manual work. Meanwhile, a sedentary worker who mainly sits in the office would need less energy overall. Such a person would likely be less physically active than the labourer.

Nevertheless, we all need to eat food from all food classes to achieve optimum health. The food classes are carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, proteins, fats and oil and water. A pyramid frequently helps in featuring the food classes. Generally, this shows the relative portions required.

Water is at the base, indicating that our bodies require more fluids. On top of the water is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates give us energy. And so, the body needs a more considerable portion. Above carbohydrates is the fruits and vegetable group. Next are proteins. Lastly, fats and oil come at the top. 

Therefore, health practitioners mostly recommend we use fats and oil sparingly. Our bodies do not require a lot of fats and oil. Too much tends to burden our system and cause diseases. Such as atherogenesis. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA)7 recommends switching to low-fat or fat-free milk. It is in our best interest to adhere to such recommendations. 


There are various fatty substances, and cholesterol is a popular one. Our bodies need some cholesterol to function correctly. Yet, too much cholesterol puts us at risk of stroke and heart disease. Even though the liver makes cholesterol, we also get a significant amount from our diet. Foods such as meat and dairy tend to have high cholesterol. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)8 states that about 38% of adults in America have high cholesterol. A person has high cholesterol when their total body cholesterol reaches 200 mg/dL. This data is alarming, considering that stroke and heart disease are the two major causes of death in the United States.8

Cholesterol is a significant risk factor for atherogenesis. High blood cholesterol tends to encourage arterial build-up. Unfortunately, unless you have your cholesterol checked, you might not know if it is high or not. High total cholesterol does not have specific signs or symptoms to warn you. 

There are several types of cholesterol. Notably, there is the low-density lipoprotein (LDL). And then the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglycerides. The LDL is also the bad cholesterol, while the HDL is the good cholesterol. LDL is the main culprit which transports cholesterol to your arteries. Conversely, HDL takes cholesterol from your bloodstream to the liver. 

Since the cholesterol in the blood directly affects arterial build-up, LDL is most strongly associated with atherogenesis and heart disease. Alternatively, high HDL is associated with a risk decrease of heart disease. According to Heart UK9, exercise can lower bad cholesterol while elevating good cholesterol. Therefore, combining healthy eating with exercise would help to reduce the risk of atherogenesis.

Heart UK also recommends adults exercise (moderate intensity) for about 150 minutes each week.9 Splitting this would be a little over twenty minutes of exercise each day of the week. And you don't have to do all twenty minutes’ worth of activity at once. For example, if your child's school is about a ten-minute walk away, sending and picking up your child is your exercise done. And that's an activity you would do regardless. Just make it a brisk walk.

You might be surprised by routine everyday activities which could help you achieve moderate-intensity exercise. General gardening, mowing the lawn, and even ballroom dancing qualify.10 . Alternatively, you could do a week of intensive 75-minute exercise.9 This option could be a little more than ten minutes each day. Do about ten minutes in total of race walking, jogging or running, and that is your exercise for the day.10 

Of course, you could choose to do more and reap more benefits. The recommendations above are the minimum for the general public. However, there are always exceptions to every rule. Some people might have the suggested exercises unsuitable due to their circumstances. For example, someone who has lost their legs might not realistically walk, jog or run. 

Yet, physical therapists can prescribe relevant activities which would qualify as medium or vigorous exercise for such people. Therefore, anyone who desires to attain the recommended daily exercise for health can achieve it. You could always seek professional advice from a physiotherapist. 

Saturated Fat

There are several types of fat. However, the main types are saturated fat and unsaturated fat. Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature. Alternatively, unsaturated fat tends to be liquid at room temperature. Although there are exceptions, saturated fats are primarily of animal origin, while unsaturated fat tends to be of plant origin. 

In addition, saturated fat is less reactive than unsaturated fat. This difference is due to the absence of double bonds in the chemical structure of saturated fats. Conversely, unsaturated fats have at least one double bond in the chemical structure. The reactivity affects the digestion of the fat. And so, saturated fat is less digestible. Eating more saturated fat could therefore increase the burden on your digestive system. 

Saturated fats are associated with increased LDL and cholesterol. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-202011 suggest restricting saturated fat consumption to less than 10% daily calories. The guidelines provide a link to a tracker that gives you an idea of the calories you currently get from saturated fat. You can access the tracker here - 

Furthermore, the NHS12 stipulates that the UK health guidelines recommend the average 19 to 64 years man should not exceed 30g of saturated fat a day. The corresponding recommendation for a 19 to 64 years woman is not to exceed 20g of saturated fat in a day. This information would be helpful for you in deciding if you need to make any relevant changes to your diet. Also, there are suggestions for alternatives to certain high saturated foods. For example, swapping butter for olive oil in cooking, grilling instead of frying chicken and having fruit in place of ice cream for dessert.11

For people who may not give up their favourite high-saturated foods, decreasing the portion size might be helpful. For example, you could restrict yourself to a small ice cream bowl if you absolutely must have ice cream. Such small changes eventually do add up. Some processed foods are high in saturated fats. Therefore, it might be a good idea to read the label of packaged foods when shopping. 

Packaged foods usually list their ingredients on the packages. This information shows the percentages of the various nutrients in the packaged foods. Check to make sure you are comfortable with the nutrient amounts. These days, several processed foods have healthier alternatives. For example, there are reduced-fat cole-slaw options versus the standard supermarket cole-slaw. These healthier options tend to taste good too. Swap if you must.

Trans Fat

Trans fat increases your risk of atherogenesis. It increases LDL levels. In addition, it is also linked to developing heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, liver disease and stroke.13 Therefore, it is something worth avoiding if possible. Some trans fat may occur in the gut of animals. Natural trans fats are said to be present in small amounts. 

Conversely, artificial trans fat is made by adding more hydrogen to vegetable oils to make them solid. The process is called the hydrogenation of oil. The use of hydrogenated oil appears to be widespread in the fast-food industry. It helps increase the shelf life of food. Additionally, it is said to stabilise the flavours of food. The firmer fat makes food meant to be crisp more crunchy. It also makes the crust flakier. 

These desirable characteristics improve the experience of food.

Tastier food with an increased shelf life is good for business. As a result, the fast-food industry seems to use it a lot. Due to the health risks, hydrogenated oil or fat is regarded as an unpleasant food additive. They are considered one of the most harmful fats to consume.

And so, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided in 2015 that partially hydrogenated fat (PHO) was not 'Generally Recognised as Safe.'14 The FDA determined that after June 18, 2018, generally, manufacturers should not add PHO to foods. However, they allowed up to January 1, 2020, to allow the phasing out of such foods which had been produced before June 18, 2018.

Trans fat is banned in several other countries as well. The countries include Denmark, Switzerland and Austria.13 In the UK, there is currently no ban on trans fat. However, many supermarkets and top fast food chains voluntarily agreed to stop using artificial trans fat in 2012.15 This consensus might have contributed to the UK's decline in trans fat consumption. 

Globally, there has been some interest in eliminating artificial trans fat from food. For example, the news reports that trans fat could be banned worldwide by 2030.16 The WHO has put guidance in place for removing artificial trans fat from the food supply worldwide.17 Sadly, there is an estimation that more than 500,000 deaths annually are due to trans fat intake.17 


For a long time, sodium has been very valuable to humans. It has several relevant uses. These include preserving food and enhancing food flavour. Although we require small amounts of sodium, many people tend to eat it above what our bodies need. Excessive sodium consumption could lead to health issues. For example, there is evidence that excess sodium can adversely affect organs like blood vessels, heart, kidneys and brain.18 

It is widely known that too much sodium can cause high blood pressure. However, it appears that little is known about its harmful effects on blood vessels. Excess sodium could damage the inner layer of blood vessels. When this happens, it encourages atherogenesis (also atherosclerosis). Many heart attacks and blood flow compromises to body parts result from atherogenesis. 

The kidney is the main organ responsible for eliminating excess sodium. It does this by filtering the blood of waste substances. However, too much sodium could damage the kidney and make it inefficient in the filtration process.

It is not recommended to add salt to a baby's food for health reasons. Till the age of one year, babies' kidneys are not well developed to deal with so much salt. Therefore, it is best to allow babies to derive their sodium needs from breast milk or formula milk. The amount of sodium in breast milk is enough to satisfy the baby's needs. Also, formula milk tends to be manufactured under strict guidelines regarding baby needs. 

Generally, feeding babies requires diligence. It is therefore essential to check food labels when shopping for baby food. Alternatively, one may decide to make homemade baby food. Apart from being cheaper, you are sure of exactly what is put into the baby food. If you intend to give your baby some family food, be mindful of its salt. For babies, avoid stock cubes, bacon and crisps because they tend to be laden with sodium.

According to the NHS, adults should not eat more than 6g of salt in a day.19 Since sodium accounts for about forty per cent. In contrast, chloride forms the remaining sixty: This would work out as about 2.4g of sodium. 

Many processed foods in the UK have colour codes on them. These colour codes indicate the amount of salt in the food.19 It would be best to stick with foods having the green code. The green code shows low salt. The amber shows medium salt while the red shows high salt. 

It would be a good idea to avoid red-coded foods where possible. Otherwise, you could take steps to minimise them. A lot of snacks such as chips and crisps are high in salt. In place of these snacks, you could have fruits and vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, apples and the like. These alternatives would boost your immune system by supplying your body with vitamins and minerals.

Fast Food and Processed Food

It is generally known that fast and processed foods are not the healthiest. The busy nature of the world today has made the convenience of fast food and processed food attractive. Such foods taste great taste. This is understandable, considering that no one would patronize unpalatable food.

Therefore, the fast-food industry is a profitable venture. Unfortunately, fast and processed foods contain high sodium, fats, oil, sugar, and other unhealthy additives. They may have low nutrients comparatively. Due to the tendency of containing health-risk ingredients, fast foods have earned the nickname junk food. Some people also refer to them as discretionary food. In essence, they are high in energy but low in nutrients.

Thus, junk food is not required to meet your nutritional needs. The WHO20  states that The Global Burden of Disease Project estimates about 34,000 cancer deaths annually linked to processed meat. They further explained that there is enough evidence that processed meat is carcinogenic in humans. Carcinogenic means there is the potential for causing cancer. Furthermore, WHO classifies processed meat as Group 1 carcinogenic to humans. 

Interestingly, tobacco smoking and asbestos are in the same group. The group shows the amount of evidence backing an agent as a cause of cancer but not the level of risk.20 The Department of Health of Western Australia21 states that 35% of Australian adults' energy intake is from junk food. Conversely, 41% of Australian children's energy is from junk food.21  These figures suggest that Australians consume a lot of junk food.

Furthermore, Liu et al.22 found that from 2001 to 2018, there was an increase in snack bar consumption in US children and adults. These findings are worrying due to the chronic diseases associated with junk food. Apart from cancer, junk foods are also associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, overweight and obesity. 

The government intends to ban junk food advertisements before 9 pm23 in the UK. According to BBC News, the NHS Digital states that the UK population's weight increased from the 1990s, with greater than 60% of adults currently overweight or obese.23 The UK government is keen to prevent young people from consuming excessive unhealthy products. Therefore, since 2018 manufacturers have been paying more tax on drinks with high sugar content.23 

Ultimately, the decision rests with individuals as to what to eat. We should all take responsibility for our health.

Side Effects of Eating Fatty Foods

Generally, health professionals worldwide would admonish you to reduce fat in your diet. Admittedly, fatty foods tend to be deliciously convenient. Yet, at what price are you willing to have it? As illustrated, so many diseases have links to eating fatty foods. Diets high in total fat tend to increase cholesterol levels leading to cardiovascular diseases, including atherosclerosis.

Furthermore, Binukumar and Mathew24 showed that increasing fat consumption is associated with breast cancer. Since breast cancer affects growing numbers of women worldwide, a good starting point to preventing it might be eliminating or reducing fats in our meals. 

Another study by Yank et al.25 shows that a high-fat diet affected the development of colorectal cancer. In addition, the American Cancer Society26 expects that there will be 106,180 new cases of colon cancer and 44,850 new cases of rectal cancer in 2022. The Society places colorectal cancer as about the third in common cancer, excluding skin cancers.

The estimated numbers are concerning, especially when modifying one's diet could help in preventing colorectal cancer. 

Also, Golay and Bobbioni concluded in their research that dietary fat encourages excessive consumption and weight gain because of its low satiety and caloric content.27 Meanwhile, overweight and obesity are associated with several chronic illnesses. This knowledge is widespread, and many overweight and obese individuals strive to achieve a normal body mass index (BMI). 

This situation has made the industry of fitness trainers quite lucrative. Many turn to various dietary supplements which promise to help them lose weight. Although the recognition to try such avenues to achieve a healthy weight is admirable, perhaps, the best place one could start would be cutting down on fat intake. We might be setting ourselves up for disappointment if we continually indulge in a high-fat diet while exploring other avenues to achieve healthy weights.

Although some such supplements could be helpful, it is always best to consult your health professional in such matters. Dietitians have qualifications that allow them to give recommendations appropriate to your circumstances. Remember, just because a particular regimen worked for someone does not mean it would suit you.

Do speak to your doctor if you have any concerns. Your doctor could refer you to a dietitian or nutritionist if necessary. Health care professionals are always happy to help when they can. Do use their services.


Health is one of the essential things in life. It may be second only to life. How can we enjoy the things that mean so much to us if we have bad health? Spending quality time with our loved ones, travelling to places of interest and even enjoying good food requires a certain amount of good health. 

Therefore, we must take control of our health. Unhealthy foods indeed tend to taste great. Yet, there are healthier alternatives that taste great as well. If only we were willing to seek such options, we would be doing excellent service ourselves.

We have so much information readily available on social media concerning healthy foods and exercise in recent times. A lot of good quality content is available for free on YouTube, for example. You do not necessarily need to pay a subscription service to access such information.

And a lot of the content creators have qualifications or some in-depth knowledge of the content they create. information about such educationalists is easy to find out. Find one you are amiable to and get choices in your meals and suitable exercise. Do modern people have an excuse to not thrive for optimum health? 

And so, would you instead enjoy life for just a short while only to be ridden with chronic diseases later in life? Would you like to make a significant input in your loved ones' lives for longer when you are healthy? It is really up to you. Do choose well for life is lived just once. What would your choice be?  


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  3. World Health Organization. Cardiovascular diseases. [internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 20]. Available from:
  4. NHS. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)[internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 20]. Available from:
  5. BBC goodfood. Butter. [internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 20]. Available from:
  6. John Hopkins Medicine. Atherosclerosis. [internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 20]. Available from:
  7. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Small changes matter. Start simple with MyPlate today. [internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 20]. Available from:
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cholesterol. [internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 21]. Available from:
  9. Heart UK. Exercise for lower cholesterol. [internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 21]. Available from:
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measuring physical activity intensity. [internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 21]. Available from:
  11. Office of Disease prevention and health promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Cut down on saturated fats. [internet]. 2016. [cited 2022 Feb 22]. Available from:
  12. NHS. How to eat less saturated fat. Eat well. [internet]. 2020. [cited 2022 Feb 22]. Available from:
  13. Diabetes UK. Trans fat. [internet]. 2022. [cited 2022 Feb 23]. Available from:
  14. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Trans fat. [internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 23]. Available from:
  15. Nics Well. UK ban on trans fat 'would save thousands of lives'. [internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 23]. Available from:
  16. inews. Trans fat could be banned worldwide by 2030, but this is how you can avoid them now. [internet]. 2020. [cited 2022 Feb 23]. Available from:
  17. WHO. WHO plan to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from global food supply. [internet]. 2018. [cited 2022 Feb 23]. Available from:
  18. William B. F., David G. E., Claudine T.J. and William S.W. Dietary Sodium and Health: more than just blood pressure. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015 March 17. 65(10): 1042-50. Available from: doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2014.12.039.
  19. NHS. Salt: the facts. Eat well. [internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 25]. Available from:
  20. WHO. Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. [internet]. 2015. [cited 2022 Feb 25]. Available from:
  21. Department of Health. Government of Western Australia. Junk food. [internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 25]. Available from:
  22. Liu J., Lee Y., Micha R., Li Y., Mozaffarian D. Trends in junk consumption among US children and adults, 2001-2018. Am J Clin Nutr. 2021 September 1. 114(3). 1039-1048. Available from:
  23. BBC News. Anti-obesity drive: Junk food TV adverts to be banned before 9 pm. [internet]. 2021. [cited 2022 Feb 25]. Available from:
  24. Binukumar B. and Mathew A. Dietary fat and risk of breast cancer. World J Surg Oncol. 2005 July 18. 3:45. Available from:
  25. Yank J., Wei H., Zhou Y., Szeto C.H., Li C., Lin Y., Coker O. O., Lau H. C. H., Chan A. W. H., Sung J. J. Y. and Yu J. High-fat diet promotes colorectal tumorigenesis through modulating gut microbiota and metabolites. Gastroentology. 2022 January. 162(1). 135-149. Available from:
  26. American Cancer Society. Key statistics for colorectal cancer. [internet]. 2022. [cited 2022 Feb 27]. Available from:
  27. Golay A and Bobbioni E. The role of dietary fat in obesity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1997 Jun;21 Suppl 3:S2-11. PMID: 9225171. Available here:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Adwoa Boakye

Master of Research - MRes Dental Public Health, The University of Manchester, England
I have a BSc in Human Biology and BDS. I do like to write about health issues in an easy-to-understand way for the everyday person.

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