By now – after dozens of medical studies and warnings by doctors – everyone knows that high levels of cholesterol (LDL, the “bad” cholesterol that collects in the walls of blood vessels) is a potential killer. Cholesterol, doctors say, jams up arteries and prevents the healthy flow of blood, and is responsible for a range of diseases, especially in middle aged individuals.
But a new study at Petach Tikvah's Beilinson Hospital says that for the elderly, higher levels of cholesterol mean a longer life, not a shorter one. A five year study of elderly patients with an average age of 82 showed that those with higher cholesterol levels, including higher LDL levels, lived longer than those with lower levels.
Those taking part in the study were being treated at Beilinson for a range of conditions – not including heart problems or other cholesterol-related problems, and none were given any cholesterol-reducing drugs. All patients in the study were suffering from diseases that are common among individuals in later old age, and all were considered having an equal chance of surviving by doctors.Thus, the study isolated cholesterol as a factor that could be studied independently.
And the study showed surprising results, hospital officials said in the study. Those with higher cholesterol levels lived between several months to several years longer than those with lower levels, with a statistical difference sufficient to attribute the higher cholesterol as an important factor in the patients' survival, the study said.
Doctors said that it wasn't immediately clear why cholesterol would play a positive role in the health of the elderly, as opposed to the damage it does to younger people. One theory is that cholesterol, which softens the arteries, helps keep them “flexible” in older people, the opposite of the hardening of the arteries that high LDL levels can cause. Based on the study, doctors said, hospitals should examine their policies on the treatment they provide for cholesterol reduction among the elderly.