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Sunday, 4 March, 2001, 02:57 GMT
Low cholesterol 'not healthy for elderly'
Heart monitor
An average cholesterol level 'reduces heart risk in the elderly'
Low levels of cholesterol in the blood may not necessarily be healthy for elderly men, research suggests.

A long-term study has found that for men over the age of 70 it is best to strike a happy medium.

Researchers found that men in this group with an average cholesterol level in their blood were less likely to develop coronary heart disease than those with higher levels - and those with lower levels.

The healthy range was found to be between 200 to 219 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

This study questions how aggressive physicians should be in attempting to lower cholesterol

Professor Beatriz Rodriguez, University of Hawaii
It is commonly thought that a low cholesterol level is healthy.

But lead researcher Professor Beatriz Rodriguez, of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, said: "The study indicates that in the elderly, it is not good to have cholesterol too high, and it is not good to have it too low."

Elevated cholesterol significantly raises the risk of heart attack in young and middle-aged individuals, and the higher the cholesterol, the higher the risk.

However, the same relationship has not been found consistently in the few studies that have looked at cholesterol levels and heart risk in people over age 70.

At present, the American Heart Association recommends reducing cholesterol levels to below 200 mg/dL through diet, exercise and medication, if needed.

The researchers tracked more than 2,000 men, aged 71 to 93, for up to six years.

Intermediate levels

They found men with intermediate cholesterol levels had the lowest rate of coronary heart disease.

Men with cholesterol readings of 240 mg/dL and higher had a 90% greater risk of developing heart disease than those with readings of 200 to 219 mg/dL.

However, more surprisingly, men with cholesterol readings below 160 mg/dL had a 55% greater risk of heart disease than men with readings between 200 and 219 mg/dL.

Professor Rodriguez said: "Among the elderly, it appears that people with high cholesterol should be treated.

"However, this study questions how aggressive physicians should be in attempting to lower cholesterol below 200 in this age group.

"It may not be healthy to drive cholesterol far below this level, and it is important that more clinical trials that include elderly people are conducted to clarify this issue."

The findings remained statistically significant after the researchers adjusted for other heart disease risk factors such as smoking, high-blood pressure and low levels of so-called "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

A spokeswoman for the British Heart Foundation said: "High blood cholesterol is a key factor in the development of coronary heart disease (CHD) and the British Heart Foundation recommend that the cholesterol levels of people of all ages should aim to be 5mmol/l or below.

"It is important that the results of this study do not detract from the importance of maintaining a safe cholesterol level in order to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

"As well as age, other lifestyle factors should also been taken into consideration - including smoking, diet, obesity and inactivity - when deciding on the need to try to lower an individuals cholesterol levels, either with drugs or diet."

The research was presented at a conference of the American Heart Association.

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