Aging Has An Unexpected Effect On Your Cholesterol

Cholesterol is often noted as one of the bad seeds in the health industry because of its link to heart disease. It's not that cholesterol is bad. Your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to maintain the structure of your cells and help produce hormones, vitamin D, and bile salts. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs, but you get more cholesterol from animal-based foods like meat, eggs, and cheese. Cholesterol can be bad for you when you have too much of it in your bloodstream. It can clog your arteries and restrict blood flow.

Cholesterol is transported in the bloodstream through lipoproteins, such as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). LDL carries cholesterol from the liver for cell use, while VLDL transports triglycerides and cholesterol for energy. High-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as "good cholesterol," efficiently transports cholesterol back to the liver for breakdown and excretion.

Even if you do your best to exercise and eat a healthy diet, you may notice your cholesterol levels creeping up as you get older. According to a 2014 article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, your body tends to absorb less LDL in the cells and converts less cholesterol into bile acid, leading to an increase in both circulating LDL and overall cholesterol levels. For women, this effect is stronger as they go through menopause.

Age-related changes in cholesterol metabolism

Even though young and middle-aged women tend to have lower cholesterol levels compared to their male counterparts, women will see this difference level off when they reach menopause. In particular, they might see their HDL cholesterol decrease while their total cholesterol increases. Estrogen regulates the production of cholesterol in the body, and declining estrogen levels could cause the body to produce more cholesterol.

Researchers don't fully understand why cholesterol is metabolized differently as people age, according to a 2022 article in Aging. It's possible that losing muscle and gaining a little more body fat might make people more insulin-resistant, causing the liver to make more LDL cholesterol. Aging could also mean that the HDL cholesterol becomes less effective at doing its job.

Cholesterol isn't just part of your heart health. The cholesterol in your brain also changes as you get older, and this could lead to cognitive decline and risk of neurodegenerative disease. There's also a connection between your liver and your brain. Liver diseases such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) have been linked with poor cognitive performance and function.

Controlling your cholesterol as you age

If you see your total cholesterol levels inching above 200, it's important to take a closer look at your numbers. Your total cholesterol might be above the red because your HDL levels are high. Any HDL level above 60 is considered to be healthy for your heart. On the other hand, your LDL levels should be less than 130, although this might need to be lower if you have heart disease or diabetes. A cholesterol test will also tell you the concentration of triglycerides in your blood. A triglyceride concentration of less than 150 milligrams per deciliter is best.

Before going on a statin to reduce your cholesterol, your doctor might assess your cardiac risk and suggest lifestyle changes to naturally lower your cholesterol. A diet low in saturated fats and high in fiber can help lower your cholesterol. The American Heart Association suggests less meat and more fish, particularly fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Exercise is another way to reduce your cholesterol, but you don't need to join an expensive gym. At least five days a week, add 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, to help increase your HDL cholesterol. Exercise will also help you lose weight, which will also improve your HDL levels. Lastly, reduce your alcohol intake and quit smoking to manage your cholesterol.