In recent years, food marketers have flooded the media with ads that promote low cholesterol, no cholesterol, and cholesterol-fighting products, sending the message that higher cholesterol levels are bad for us at any age. Physicians affirm that our bodies need some fat and that we should maintain healthy levels of good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol. Does the same advice ring true for elderly people? Some researchers are suggesting that higher cholesterol levels are actually a good thing once you pass a certain age.
It’s essential to consider that our bodies produce and use different types of fats for different purposes. As with many other things, our bodies need the right balance of fats, including good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
Cholesterol, Triglycerides and Their Functions
Like cholesterol, triglycerides are lipids or fats. The blood carries cholesterol and triglycerides through the bloodstream with a little help from the lipoproteins. Despite the hype from the media, fats aren’t all bad. Fats give your body energy, maintain your body warm, and protect your whole body. They also help your body absorb some nutrients and help produce hormones.
Triglycerides have a different function than cholesterol in the body. They burn to create energy. Triglycerides and cholesterol are both manufactured inside the body, and the body can create cholesterol on its own. Our bodies need chemicals from the food that we eat to increase triglyceride levels.
Too much in the way of fats and cholesterol can cause heart or circulatory problems.
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Managing Cholesterol Levels
Most people have their HDL and LDL levels checked at their annual physical, regardless of their age. When cholesterol levels are too high, you can lower them by a change in diet. Some physicians may prescribe statins to lower cholesterol when levels are dangerously high or trending high. Other ways to reduce cholesterol are by adding some daily exercise, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and losing weight.
Most doctors pay special attention to LDL levels. Too much LDL causes cholesterol to collect on the inside walls of the blood vessels. Blood vessels that get clogged with fats and other substances block the flow of blood to the heart, sometimes causing a heart attack or stroke.
New Study Shows that Higher Cholesterols Benefit the Elderly
A recent study that a professor from the University of South Florida and a team of international experts conducted showed some surprising results about cholesterol levels in elderly people, including that higher cholesterol levels could actually be good for you passed a certain age. [i]
The study showed that cholesterol levels typically increase steadily, starting when you are about 20 years’ old and continuing until you are about age 65. After that, there is a slight decrease in cholesterol, except that the levels remain about the same for women.
The study showed that people over the age of 74 who had higher levels of LDL cholesterol usually lived as long or longer than their peers who had the same high levels.
The team discovered that high cholesterol after age 75 was partly responsible for lowering the incidence of neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and some other life-threatening diseases like cancer and infectious diseases.
Do the Results of This New Study Change the Health Approach for Seniors?
Some doctors and researchers are suggesting that the new study demonstrates the need to modify their approach towards older patients with higher cholesterol levels.
Where most physicians would be inclined to prescribe statins to people over the age of 74, doctors are rethinking that decision. Some doctors are now thinking that the benefits in reducing diseases that tend to plague the elder population, like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, far outweigh any risk in allowing higher cholesterol levels. [ii]
Other doctors disagree, suggesting that the evidence is not strong enough to alleviate statin use for elderly people. They believe that the initial results of this study are promising, but they need to see the results of additional clinical trials on cholesterol and triglyceride levels before making any firm conclusions. [iii]
Some Final Words on Higher Cholesterol Levels in the Elderly Population
Our bodies are developing and changing all throughout our lives. As our bodies change during the elder season of life, internal changes often occur in ways that we least expect, including our cholesterol levels. It seems for now that people over the age of 74 can enjoy a little extra fat in their diets.