When You Turn 50, This Is What Happens To Your Risk Of High Cholesterol

You might not feel, look, or act your age at 50, but your body will start to change nonetheless. One of those changes is a bump in your likelihood of developing high cholesterol. However, dealing with higher cholesterol isn't a foregone conclusion. By taking proactive steps, you can keep your cholesterol in check as you cruise into midlife and beyond.

As you might recall from biology or physiology class, cholesterol is a naturally occurring wax-like substance that travels through your blood. Though it gets negative press, the American Heart Association notes that cholesterol plays an essential role in helping you hormonally, cellularly, and nutritionally. Cholesterol only becomes a problem when you have so much of the "bad" type that it begins to cling to the inside of your arteries. At that point, the thick deposits can make it harder for your heart to work at optimal capacity.

What's the so-called "bad" type of cholesterol? WebMD explains that it's low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. As opposed to "good" cholesterol, which is high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, LDL cholesterol is the type that collects within your artery walls. For that reason, it's best to keep LDL at 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). After all, even if your HDL levels are adequate, too-high LDL levels can boost your likelihood of cholesterol-related medical problems like the development of cardiovascular disease.

How does your age fit in? The older you get, the harder it can be for your body to keep your LDL levels in check.

Aging affects body performance efficiency

Age-specific figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) illustrate how the propensity toward high cholesterol peaks for midlife men and women. The agency's research indicates that among American adult age-banded cohorts, the greatest percentage of people with high cholesterol is among those ages 40 to 59. In fact, adults are statistically more likely to experience high cholesterol at that point in their lives than at any other. Why? Time takes its normal toll.

Under ideal conditions, your body would effectively flush out LDL cholesterol, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. However, the older you get, the less efficient your body will be at removing LDL cholesterol, especially if you are genetically predisposed toward higher LDL, as WebMD points out.

And here's the real kicker: You could feel fine even if your LDL levels are inching upward. But although you might not have high cholesterol symptoms, AARP reporting suggests that you could be moving closer toward getting diagnosed with high cholesterol than you realize. Yet you aren't relegated to just accepting high cholesterol. You can do something about it.

One of the most commonly prescribed ways to treat high cholesterol due to high LDL levels is with a medication called a statin. As the Mayo Clinic notes, statins tend to be well-tolerated. Plus, they can work as long as you take them regularly. That said, some adults would rather reduce their high cholesterol with non-drug solutions, like lifestyle changes.

Lowering elevated LDL levels without medications

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, physician and author of "The End of Heart Disease" and "Eat for Life," is a well-regarded proponent of taking nutritional and physical routes to beat back high cholesterol numbers. He agrees that statins can be useful, but only if they're necessary.

"Studies suggest that lowering cholesterol levels with a statin may reduce or delay the risk of a heart attack by 20-40%," says Fuhrman. "But healthy diet and lifestyle factors are much more powerful." Among his most recommended changes are following a healthy diet, curbing all smoking behaviors, maintaining a healthy weight, and staying active. When combined, he notes that those recommended changes could reduce high cholesterol-related risks by up to 90% or greater.

"A [2017] study that surveyed over 2000 people who followed my dietary [recommendations] found dramatic weight loss and cardiovascular benefits," explains Furhman. "In those who were not taking cholesterol-lowering medication, there was an average 42 mg/dl decrease in LDL cholesterol. Plus, this study also included case histories demonstrating reversal of cardiovascular disease."

Turning the big 5-0 should be a time for celebration. As a birthday gift to yourself, strive to keep tabs on your cholesterol numbers and tweak your lifestyle to keep your cardiovascular system's performance strong.