One study, which you likely never heard about, evaluated the impact of cholesterol on longevity in men and women age 65-98 years of age (mean age 76 years old). The results were nothing short of astonishing:
The group with the lowest cholesterol were most likely to die during the study
HDL level (considered the good cholesterol) had no impact on risk of death
Women had higher levels of cholesterol than men and yet they lived longer!
Men who had similar total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels to the women lived just as long as the women
Even the bad cholesterol (LDL) was protective against early death. This means the people who had the most “bad” cholesterol lived the longest
Yes, but is there any other research that supports these findings?
Dr. Bernard Forette in Paris, France found that women of the mean age of 82 years of age who had the highest cholesterol enjoyed the longest lifespan. Women with a total cholesterol of 272 mg/dl seemed to have the longest lifespan while those women with a cholesterol of 155 mg/dl had over five times the risk of early death. When cholesterol was excessively high, in the range of 350 mg/dl, risk of death increased to 1.8 times normal. The interesting finding was that women who had cholesterols around 200 also shared an increased risk of dying equivalent to 1.8 times normal. The bottom line is there are two groups who die early, the group whose cholesterol is very low or very high! The group with an excessively elevated cholesterol usually have an inherited condition which causes extremely high cholesterol (around 400 mg/dl or higher), this group has a higher risk of early death.
In another study performed in the Netherlands, people older than 85 years of age were followed for 5 years. The group who had cholesterol levels greater than 252 mg/dl where half as likely to die as those with cholesterols less than 194 mg/dl. The people who had cholesterols between these two extremes enjoyed two-thirds the death rates as those who had the lowest cholesterol.
The bottom line of these studies is that senior citizens should reconsider cholesterol lowering treatment. Lowering cholesterol in seniors will not protect them from early death, it will likely shorten their lives. In addition, lowering cholesterol can place seniors at increased risk of depression, energy deficits and memory problems.
What about using natural products to lower cholesterol?
In senior citizens we do not recommend lowering cholesterol unless it is extremely high. At this point natural alternatives to cholesterol lowering medications can become a proper course of action. Unless cholesterol is elevated over 280, our recommendation is to leave it alone and look to other means of protecting yourself against heart disease. These other means include controlling carbohydrate intake, taking fish oil, antioxidants and other important herbs and nutrients to protect the heart.
Schupf N, Costa R, Luchsinger J, et al. (2005). Relationship Between Plasma Lipids and All-Cause Mortality Nondemented Elderly. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 53:219-226.
Forette B, Tortar D, Wolmark Y (1989). Cholesterol as a Risk Factor for Mortality in Elderly Women. Lancet 1:868-870.
Waverling-Rijnsberger WE, Blauw GJ, Lagaay AM, Knook DL, Meinders AE (1997). Total Cholesterol in the Oldest Old. Lancet 350:1119-1123.