Age is a major factor affecting the likelihood of developing high cholesterol levels in adults of all ethnicities. The age component affects men and women differently, but it remains a governing influence on cholesterol levels and the resultant risk for heart disease and stroke. Age and cholesterol have three approximate phases: youth and young adults; middle-aged adults; the elderly and otherwise health-compromised.
What is pivotal to keep in mind is that high cholesterol is high cholesterol at any age, and it should be actively avoided. Most high LDL cholesterol can be wrangled by a change in lifestyle to include more whole foods, low-fat products, and 30 minutes of exercise per day.
How does age affect overall cholesterol levels? There is a tendency in humans to see LDL cholesterol levels increase gradually with age, but there are exceptions, of course. Because our metabolism slows down as we age, our bodies no longer need that amount of fuel, in the form of food, that we previously ingested, but most people don’t adjust their food intake to accommodate this shift.
The result is fewer calories are being burned and are therefore stored as fat, which results in a higher level of triglycerides, which in turn results in an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol and a decreased in HDL (good) cholesterol levels, equals additional arterial plaque, a bandit in causing heart disease and stroke.
The Facts on Age and Cholesterol Levels
There are several considerations to be regarded as they relate to age and cholesterol levels, and while it is impossible to generalize, there are distinct trends. Here are some hard-and-fast facts about age and cholesterol levels:
- If children partake in a bad diet, full of high-cholesterol foods, and that habit becomes ingrained at a young age, while they may not be at imminent risk for a heart attack, the nasty arterial plague has a longer time period (an earlier start) and can cause heart problems in young adulthood. Nobody should be taking in too much cholesterol, not at any age.
- By the age of 20, everyone should have the simple blood test that measures cholesterol levels. This should be done at the very least in five-year increments, but once men are past the age of 45 and women past 55, it should be performed more frequently.
- The U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggests that the tendency to suffer elevated LDL cholesterol levels as we mature and age can be tampered with (positively) by consistently keeping cholesterol levels in check from young adulthood onward. It is easier to battle high LDL cholesterol levels at a young age than it is when we get older, so the time to start is now.
- Women have two issues with high cholesterol. The first applies to women on child-bearing age. When pregnant, cholesterol levels naturally go up to accommodate the growth of the fetus; this is temporary, and generally ceases after birth, but if cholesterol levels remain high a couple of weeks after childbirth, then action needs to be taken to get them under control. The second applies to women who have gone through menopause, about age 55 and over. The estrogen that once protected them is depleted and cholesterol levels increase.
- After the age of 75, people with health problems actually find their cholesterol levels do down. Strangely, this is not a good sign. A study conducted at the University of Ferrara, Italy, reported in the medical journal, “Gerontology”, in 2001, entitled, “The inverse association between age and cholesterol levels among older patients: the role of poor health status”, concludes: “These findings suggest that the age-dependent reduction of cholesterol often observed in clinical and epidemiologic studies is substantially explained by the effect of poor health status. Low cholesterol in older persons may be a marker of poor health.” To read the entire article, please visit: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11244290.
Can We Beat Age-related High Cholesterol?
Because, as stated in the first paragraph, high cholesterol is high at any age, yes, we can do a number of things to fight the proclivity for LDL cholesterol levels to rise after the age of 45 in men and 55 in women. The sooner we adopt a healthy diet, exclude smoking cigarettes, and incorporate regular, simple exercise into our lives, the better prepared we will be to fight any increase in LDL, however small, as we age.
If lifestyle changes are insufficient (and this would indicate a serious high cholesterol level problem), then there are medications that will improve and reduce levels to normal, but as with all drugs there are side-effects. Positive lifestyle changes will not only lower cholesterol levels, but also contribute to overall good health at any age.