Cholesterol is often viewed as “bad” these days and many people are doing everything they can to lower cholesterol levels as much as possible. This isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Cholesterol is essential for many normal bodily functions. Enzymes use cholesterol to produce vitamin D, steroid hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone), stress hormones, and bile acids for digestion. Cholesterol forms a membrane that surrounds all cells and is also a critical part of regenerating damaged endothelial cells (inner layer of blood vessel walls).
Cholesterol is actually a “healing agent” and is needed to produce new cells whenever healing is required. For example, cholesterol levels drastically increase after surgery, infections, and even heart attacks as part of the healing process.
For most individuals, if you do not eat enough dietary cholesterol the liver produces the cholesterol needed for bodily functions. The amount of cholesterol in your diet determines how much the liver produces (i.e. eat more cholesterol, the liver produces less and vice versa).
Cholesterol is essential for optimal health and pushing levels too low can cause problems. Back in 1994, the American Heart Association issued a statement noting an increase in deaths from trauma, cancer, hemorrhagic stroke, respiratory diseases, and infectious diseases in individuals with cholesterol levels less than 160 mg/dl. It’s worth noting that a large number of these deaths seemed to be due to poor health unrelated to the low cholesterol levels.
However, since then many studies are linking low cholesterol levels with depression and anxiety when levels drop below 160 mg/dl. One psychologist suggested having too low cholesterol alters brain cell function and the brain cells with low cholesterol levels may have fewer receptors for the mood-elevating neurotransmitter serotonin. This could be the reason low cholesterol levels increase rates of depression.
Additional studies have linked low cholesterol levels with increased risk of suicide, impulsivity, and aggression.
Now, I know having too low cholesterol (hypocholesterolemia) is not a condition that is a major concern for many of you. However, with the rapidly rising use of medications, such as statin drugs, I’m noticing individuals reporting cholesterol levels that are dropping into potentially dangerous territory. Be sure to work with your physician to ensure you maintain healthy cholesterol levels appropriate for you.
Be sure to sign up for the free e-course How to Lower Cholesterol in 8 Simple Steps.
Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides clients step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so they can live life and enjoy their family for years to come. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques. She can be found on Twitter @lisanelsonrd and Facebook at hearthealthmadeeasy.