Can Seasonal Changes Cause Your Cholesterol to Fluctuate?

seasonal changes
Jan Will Fotografie;

We often associate certain medical conditions with the change of the seasons – such as allergies in the early spring and a spike in the flu or common cold during the winter months. However, there are some studies that suggest that seasonal changes may be associated with a change in your cholesterol levels, too.


Cholesterol Levels and Seasonal Changes

Changes in cholesterol levels coinciding with a transition to colder or warmer months was first noted as an afterthought, but there are a few studies that have backed up this observation.

Most studies examined men and women with or without high cholesterol levels. From these studies, it was noted that total cholesterol levels, LDL cholesterol levels, and HDL cholesterol levels were slightly higher in the winter months versus the summer months. One study estimated that total cholesterol levels were the highest in the month of December for men,and in the month of January for women. One study estimated that 22% of study participants were more likely to have a total cholesterol levels at least 240 mg/dL or higher during the winter months versus summer months. In a few of these studies, LDL levels appeared to be at least 3% higher during the winter months, and HDL cholesterol levels were up to 4% higher during the winter months. In some studies, however, the increase in cholesterol during the winter months was not statistically significant.

Studies appear to be more conflicting for triglyceride levels.

While some studies saw a slight increase of triglyceride levels during the winter months, other studies did not see a meaningful fluctuation of triglycerides during warmer and colder months.

A similar trend was noted in another study with individuals who were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and were taking either atorvastatin (Lipitor) or pravastatin (Pravachol).

In these patients taking these medications, LDL cholesterol levels were anywhere between 6% and 10% higher in the winter months in comparison to the summer months. Additionally, reaching target LDL levels appeared to be more easily achieved during the summer months versus the winter months.

The fluctuation in cholesterol levels between the warmer and cooler months appeared to be more pronounced in younger women, in people who already had high cholesterol levels, and in individuals with cardiovascular disease. The reason for this trend is not known.


When Should You Check Your Lipids?

Although some of these studies suggest that lipid levels may be higher during the late fall and winter months in comparison to other seasons, more studies would be needed to further investigate this. In some of these studies, diet and physical exercise – which could also affect lipid levels – were not accounted for. Fresh fruit and vegetables are not typically available in some areas during the winter months, forcing some to rely on processed foods to include in their diet - especially during food-filled holidays such as Thanksgiving or New Years that occur during that time.

  Additionally, the colder seasons often see a decrease in physical activity due to the harsher weather, which could also account for higher lipid levels noted in these studies. However, there may also be other unknown factors that could account for the differences in cholesterol levels seen in these studies. Additional studies would help to give additional insight into the link between colder seasons and higher lipid levels, as well as why this happens.

At this moment, there are no recommendations regarding what time of the year to have your cholesterol and triglycerides tested during the year. Therefore, you should speak to your healthcare provider about your concerns and have your lipids checked regularly. The American Heart Association recommends that you should have your lipid levels checked every 4 to 6 years if you are 20 years of age and older and healthy. If you have other risk factors for heart disease – such as diabetes or inherited high cholesterol levels – your healthcare provider may assess your lipids more frequently.



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