high cholesterol levels

A new study explored the association of high cholesterol levels after the Christmas season and highlights the importance of timing when diagnosing high cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all cells of the body. However, having too much cholesterol in the blood can cause the development of fatty deposits in blood vessels and clog arteries. This can make it challenging for enough blood to flow through the arteries. As such, high cholesterol levels can lead to developing cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and stroke.

Researchers noticed that individuals who checked their cholesterol levels around the holiday season reported cholesterol levels that were about 20% higher than cholesterol levels checked during the summer. This prompted the question of how Christmas was related to high cholesterol levels and what impact the timing of checking cholesterol levels has on diagnosing individuals with high cholesterol. Since people often indulge in more fatty foods during the holiday season, a recent study explored how the timing of checking cholesterol levels impacts decisions on initiating treatment for high cholesterol levels.

Are cholesterol levels and the risk of hypercholesterolemia higher after the holidays?

In the study published in the journal Atherosclerosis, researchers tested the hypothesis that levels of cholesterol and the risk of hypercholesterolemia are higher after the Christmas holidays. For their study, they included nearly 26,000 individuals between the ages of 20 and 100 years old in Denmark who were enrolled in the Copenhagen General Population Study.

High cholesterol levels were defined as total cholesterol levels greater than 5 mmol/L or greater than 193 mg/dL as well as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels greater than 3 mmol/L or greater than 116 mg/dL. The participants’ cholesterol levels were measured from December 2018 to January 2019   and compared to cholesterol levels of individuals that were measured from May to June 2018.  They found that the risk of elevated cholesterol is six times higher after the Christmas holidays.

For the participants whose cholesterol was measured during the first week of January, 77% had high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and 89% had high total cholesterol levels. This time period is immediately after Christmas break, indicating that there is a potential association of high cholesterol levels after Christmas break due to the fatty food consumed during Christmas break.

Study highlights importance of timing when checking and diagnosing high cholesterol

The researchers note that it is unfavorable to diagnose high cholesterol levels around Christmas since patients will need to re-test their cholesterol levels later and may not necessarily need to begin potentially lifelong cholesterol-lowering treatment. Their study suggests that it is important to consider the timing of checking for high levels of cholesterol since healthcare providers should not start treating for high cholesterol if it is temporary and unnecessary to prevent the burden of risks and side effects from treating high levels of cholesterol.

The study had some limitations. The study included individuals who ate fatty food during Christmas break, which poses selection bias since not every single person eats this food during the holiday season. It would be interesting to compare the cholesterol of people who consume their regular diet during the holiday season to those who eat more fatty food to further determine if there is a true association between Christmas break and levels of cholesterol.

Cholesterol levels should be checked at different times of the year

In summary, it is important to consider the timing of checking cholesterol levels prior to diagnosing individuals with high cholesterol. If people indulge in fatty food during a specific time of the year, their cholesterol levels may be elevated only during that time of the year. Therefore, it is important to check cholesterol levels during different times of the year to make sure that cholesterol levels are elevated consistently prior to initiating treatment for high cholesterol levels.

Written by Tatsiana Verstak, M.S., B.S.

References:

  1. Mayo Clinic. High cholesterol. Last updated August 15, 2017.
  2. Vedel-Krogh, Signe et al. The Christmas holidays are immediately followed by a period of hypercholesterolemia. Atherosclerosis. Volume 281, 121 – 127. February 2019.
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