Can blood cholesterol levels be too low?

By: David Stoiber


In the past few decades’ cholesterol has become a hot topic for most people as they get older and try to stay on top of their health. The current trend in America today is to get your cholesterol levels as low as possible. However, what most people fail to realize is that while having cholesterol levels that are too high is bad, having blood cholesterol levels that are too low can also have very serious ramifications.



What is cholesterol and why do we need it?
To be able to properly understand what the effects of low blood cholesterol on the body are, it is first important to understand what cholesterol actually is. Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in our cells that comes from two sources: your body and the food you eat (1). There are two main types of cholesterol found in our body, LDL and HDL. LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” type of cholesterol because it can contribute to plaque build up in the arteries and cause heart disease (2). On the other hand, HDL Cholesterol is the “good” cholesterol because it is used by the body and can help remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries (2).
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So with all this in mind, and contrary to a lot of popular public opinion, the truth is that we actually need cholesterol for our bodies. These different types of cholesterol are found not only in our bloodstreams, but also in every cell in our bodies. Within our cells, “cholesterol helps to produce the cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help you to digest fat. Cholesterol also helps in the formation of your memories and is vital for neurological function” (3). Because cholesterol is so essential for all of these functions, if our bodies are lacking in cholesterol and our levels are to low, we can face some very serious health consequences.





Dangers of blood cholesterol levels that are too low
Having cholesterol levels that are too low is just as serious as having levels that are too high and it can lead to serious problems both physically and mentally. For example, in a study conducted by the National Human Genome Research Institute, doctors concluded that pregnant women with cholesterol levels that are too low are at a significant higher risk for premature and low weight births (4). Dr. Max Muenke, one of the lead doctors on the study explains that: “during pregnancy, cholesterol is critical for both the placenta and the developing baby, including the brain” (4). Even having levels too low of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind of cholesterol!) can have some serious side effects. In a study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, researchers found that “people with low levels of LDL cholesterol are more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than people with high LDL levels” (5). In the study, researches concluded that “participants with lower LDL levels had a 3.5-fold higher occurrence of Parkinson’s than the participants with higher LDL levels” (5). Along with Parkinson’s disease, low levels of LDL have also been related to an increased risk for certain types cancer. In the case of kidney cancer, a recent study has shown that low cholesterol levels before treatment could be associated with more advanced cancer, a higher likelihood of the cancer spreading after treatment, and an overall higher percentage chance of fatality from the disease (6). Along with all the physical problems and ailments, having blood cholesterol levels that are too low can also cause a number of serious mental illnesses as well.
One of the biggest mental disorders that can arise from having low cholesterol is depression. Numerous studies from all around the world have come to the same conclusion: low cholesterol can lead to higher rates of depression or depressive symptoms. One of these studies even “found that men with low total cholesterol levels and depression were seven times more likely to die prematurely from unnatural causes such as suicide and accidents than the other men in the study” (7). Along with depression and suicidal thoughts, other studies have even shown that low cholesterol levels can lead to mental issues such as anxiety, impulsive behavior, and aggression (8).




How to maintain a proper cholesterol ratio
Because there are so many serious consequences that can arise from blood cholesterol being either too high or too low, the answer to the cholesterol problem is moderation. By keeping your blood cholesterol levels at a good ratio, you will be able to help minimize the problems that come along with high cholesterol such as heart attacks or strokes, as well as minimize the side effects that come with cholesterol levels being too low. Whether your cholesterol is too low or too high, there are natural ways to raise or lower without the use of medications. Steps to getting your cholesterol ratios to healthy levels can include simple things such as making sure you’re getting enough exercise, choosing healthier fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, reducing the amount of sugar and grains in your diet, stop smoking, and by cutting down on excessive amounts of alcohol (9).

What are healthy Cholesterol ratios?
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Conclusion & Summary
The issue of blood cholesterol levels is very complicated and difficult to understand. Because there is so much debate and discussion going around on the subject, it is hard to know what to actually believe. To most people today, they simply think that you need to get your cholesterol levels as low as possible to be healthy, however this is not actually the case. While it is true that exceptionally high cholesterol levels can lead to very serious health consequences and even death, very low cholesterol levels can have just as devastating consequences that can manifest themselves in the form of both physical diseases and mental disorders. The solution to managing your blood cholesterol levels is to get both your bad and good cholesterol to proper moderate levels. Getting to these proper levels can be done naturally through proper diet and exercise or in more extreme situations can be achieved through the use of pharmaceuticals. Because our bodies use cholesterol for various critical functions, maintaining proper cholesterol levels and making sure they do not get either too high or too low is one of the most integral parts of leading a long and healthy life.



Bibliography

1. American Heart Association. "About Cholesterol." American Heart Association. 4 Apr. 2014. Web. 20 June 2014. <http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/About-Cholesterol_UCM_001220_Article.jsp>.

2. American Heart Association. "Good vs. Bad Cholesterol." Good vs. Bad Cholesterol. 4 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 June 2014. <http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/Good-vs-Bad-Cholesterol_UCM_305561_Article.jsp>.

3. Mercola, Joeseph, Dr. "The Truth about High Cholesterol | How to Lower Cholesterol." Mercola.com. 10 Aug. 2010. Web. 20 June 2014. <http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/08/10/making-sense-of-your-cholesterol-numbers.aspx#_edn4>.

4. MacDougall, Raymond, Dr. "Low Maternal Cholesterol Tied to Premature Birth." Low Maternal Cholesterol Tied to Premature Birth. 1 Oct. 2007. Web. 20 June 2014. <http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-10/nhgr-lmc092407.php>.

5. Miler, William C., Dr., and Charles C. Poole, Dr. "Higher Occurrence of Parkinson’s Linked to Low LDL Cholesterol." UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health Higher Occurrence of Parkinsons Linked to Low LDL Cholesterol Comments. 18 Dec. 2006. Web. 20 June 2014. <http://sph.unc.edu/higher-occurrence-of-parkinsons-linked-to-low-ldl-cholesterol/>.

6. Preidt, Robert. "Low Cholesterol Levels May Spell Trouble for Kidney Cancer Patients – WebMD." WebMD. WebMD, 12 June 2014. Web. 20 June 2014. <http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/news/20140612/low-cholesterol-levels-may-spell-trouble-for-kidney-cancer-patients>.

7. Greenblatt, James M., Dr. "Low Cholesterol and Its Psychological Effects." Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. 10 June 2011. Web. 20 June 2014. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-breakthrough-depression-solution/201106/low-cholesterol-and-its-psychological-effects>.

8. Weil, Andrew, Dr. "Cholesterol: Can It Go Too Low?" Cholesterol: Can It Go Too Low? 14 Mar. 2002. Web. 20 June 2014. <http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA43423?print=1>.

9. Cassoobhoy, Arefa, Dr. "How to Boost Your 'Good' Cholesterol." WebMD. WebMD, 19 Mar. 2014. Web. 20 June 2014. <http://www.webmd.com/heart/how-to-boost-your-good-cholesterol>.