When it’s the season to be merry, is it also the season to have high cholesterol? Recent research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 62nd Annual Scientific Session seems to suggest so. Researchers found that cholesterol levels fluctuate significantly as the seasons change, rising higher during the winter months.
The seasonal shift
Previous studies have shown that heart attacks and cardiovascular-related deaths increase during the winter months, and researchers from Brazil sought to determine whether cholesterol – and winter’s seasonal effect on it – had any correlation with this risk. After looking at the lipid profiles of 227,359 individuals in Brazil, they found that levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol increased an average of seven milligrams per deciliter in the winter months compared with the summer. Although this rise was moderate, it was enough to result in an 8 percent increase in the prevalence of high cholesterol during the winter months.
The researchers believe that the environmental changes that accompany the seasons play a role in these cholesterol fluctuations, but also note that people tend to exercise less and consume fattier and more calories in the winter months than in the summer. Plus, shorter days in the winter mean people get less vitamin D, which is known to improve the good-to-bad cholesterol ratio.
Is it a risk?
For many people, these cholesterol fluctuations do not equate to any health risks, but for those with borderline high cholesterol, a seasonal increase in the winter months could push them over the edge into dangerous levels.
“People should be aware that their cholesterol and triglyceride levels vary significantly year-round, which in some cases may lead to a misinterpretation of a person’s actual cardiovascular risk,” said Dr. Filipe Moura, the study’s lead investigator. “This should especially concern those who are near the upper cholesterol limit, as they may be at higher risk than expected. This is not to say these patients should have check-ups all the time, but we do have to keep a close eye on them and know seasonal variation may play a role.”
Controlling cholesterol levels
There are a number of ways to keep cholesterol down, but many experts agree that diet is one of the most important factors in healthy cholesterol levels. Although eating healthfully is important all year ’round, it may be a particularly important part of senior care, especially in the winter months, for those whose cholesterol levels are semi-high.
Seniors and elder care providers may be able to lower cholesterol levels by limiting meat, choosing low-fat dairy, avoiding oils with saturated fats, and increasing the consumption of complex carbohydrates, fiber, fruits and veggies, and nuts, which contain “good” cholesterol, Harvard Medical School recommends.