MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY ELIZABETH A. SWICK, MS, RDN

Is it Common for Cholesterol Levels to Rise with Age?

Is it Common for Cholesterol Levels to Rise with Age?

High cholesterol is prevalent in older adults in the U.S. This presents a significant problem for public health since the risks of high cholesterol are thought to include peripheral artery disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and coronary heart disease (which may result in heart attack). There are several primary causes of increased cholesterol levels for seniors, such as changes to liver function, decreased thyroid function, the effects of menopause, and shifts in diet and activity. Thankfully, those with high cholesterol have options to help reduce their cholesterol levels and improve their heart health, including lifestyle changes, prescription treatments, and powerful natural supplements.

Why Does Cholesterol Increase with Age?

Facing increased cholesterol levels with increased age is often attributed to several normal changes that occur in the aging body:

Changes to Liver Health and Function

High cholesterol and liver damage are strongly and commonly associated, especially in older people. This is since aging is thought to cause the telomeres on our chromosomes to shorten, making it more difficult (or even impossible) for the body to replace its damaged cells with healthy new ones in a process known as replication. When liver cell replication has slowed or stopped, there are typically fewer cells with mitochondria (i.e., the “powerhouse of the cell”), which means that the liver cells may lack the energy to do their job, and blood flow to the liver may decrease. Free radicals may also lead to additional cell breakdown, compounding liver damage. As a result of such damage to the liver, this organ’s capacity to metabolize LDL (i.e., “bad”) cholesterol can decrease by as much as 35 percent, which causes levels of both LDL and total cholesterol to increase.

Changes to Thyroid Health and Function

High cholesterol and thyroid problems may also be associated with a cause-and-effect relationship. This is because the thyroid is thought of as integral to the metabolism of LDL cholesterol. If the thyroid is underactive, as is common in older adults, cholesterol is not typically metabolized as it should be, which means that total and LDL cholesterol levels may increase. In addition, an underactive thyroid may lead to increased cholesterol absorption via the gastrointestinal tract. The longer that hypothyroidism remains untreated, the more the sufferer’s cholesterol levels may rise.

The Effects of Menopause

In older women, increased cholesterol may also be caused by menopause. For pre-menopausal women, high estrogen levels help to keep cholesterol levels low. However, when they begin menopause, estrogen levels decrease, and their LDL and total cholesterol levels may increase as a result.

Shifts in Diets

Older adults may need additional resources/energy to regularly prepare healthy, balanced, and nutritious meals. As a result, they may consume more highly processed, packaged foods and fast foods that are typically high in saturated fats and trans fats. One study found that the percentage of older U.S. adults whose diet is considered “poor quality” increased by 10 percent from 2001 to 2018, suggesting that the diet quality of elderly Americans is getting worse over time, which may be contributing to increased cholesterol levels.

Inactivity and Sedentary Lifestyles

People commonly become less active as they age, often due to decreased energy, increased pain, or other forms of disability. Regardless of the cause of this shift to a more sedentary lifestyle, the likely result is that cholesterol levels rise, since exercise has been shown to raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels while lowering LDL levels.

What Is the Most Common Age to Get High Cholesterol?

Although anyone at any age can have high cholesterol (even children), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that high cholesterol is most often diagnosed in adults between ages 40 years to age 59 years old. Since cholesterol levels tend to increase with age, it’s thought to be a good idea for those over age 20 to have their cholesterol levels medically checked every five years (or more often, depending on their specific risk factors and their doctors’ recommendations). 

Why Is My Cholesterol High When I Eat Healthy and Exercise?

Consuming a healthy diet and regular exercise are typically protective agents to help combat high cholesterol. Still, for some people, a healthy lifestyle is not enough to prevent their cholesterol levels from continuing to rise. This may result from genetic factors outside of one’s control that affect how the body metabolizes and eliminates excess cholesterol. Genetic difficulties with eliminating excess cholesterol are known as familial hypercholesterolemia.

Can You Have High Cholesterol and Still Be Healthy?

Among older adults, high cholesterol may not only be less of a threat to one’s health but may actually reduce the risk of death. In fact, in adults aged 80 years and older, low cholesterol is often associated with a higher risk of death from cancer, respiratory disease, and accidents. Further research is required to fully understand this apparent paradox of aging, in which high cholesterol is often thought of as risky for young and middle-aged people yet may be protective for older people. 

In addition, having high total cholesterol levels does not always equate with poor health, and high HDL levels may protect heart health (remember, HDL is typically thought of as the “good” cholesterol). However, high LDL levels are commonly thought of as a notable risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and other serious health problems since this condition tends to cause plaque to build in the arteries (atherosclerosis).

The Best Cholesterol Supplement: Citrus Bergamot

Getting one’s cholesterol under control can often be challenging, commonly requiring significant lifestyle changes to improve diet and exercise habits. However, one of the most promising natural approaches may be to supplement with citrus bergamot to address high cholesterol levels. 

Bergamot (or Citrus bergamia) is a citrus fruit that is widely grown in southern Italy. It is best known for its use in Earl Grey tea. The fruit and its extracts contain remarkably high levels of flavonoids, compounds that may have numerous health benefits, including improvements to immune and cardiovascular health, reduced inflammation, and reduced cholesterol and overall lipid levels.

But which product has the best bergamot supplement and is currently available? 

InnerThera’s Bergamot Heart

With 1,000 mg of full-spectrum Calabrian Bergamonte®, InnerThera’s Bergamot Heart contains some of the best quality bergamot extract on the market. The effectiveness of Bergamonte® has been demonstrated in a university-based human study, which found that this form of bergamot extract may lower LDL levels by 36 percent, raise HDL levels by 40 percent, and reduce blood sugar by 22 percent, among other positive effects. 

Bergamot Heart also contains ingredients that work synergistically with Bergamonte® to amplify its benefits: 50 mg of vitamin C, which may reduce lipid oxidation leading to cellular breakdown, and 100 mg of artichoke extract, which may support healthier blood pressure. Together, these three ingredients are thought to benefit cardiovascular health and overall wellness.

Like all InnerThera supplements, Bergamot Heart is manufactured in the United States in a leading FDA-regulated facility. In addition, all InnerThera products are sent for third-party testing to confirm the purity and potency of the ingredients. Bergamot Heart is also non-GMO, soy-free, gluten-free, and is considered vegan, for those with dietary restrictions. 

Before incorporating Bergamot Heart (or any new supplement) into your routine, please consult a qualified medical professional to confirm that its combination of bergamot extract, vitamin C, and artichoke extract is appropriate for your medical needs.