While we hear a lot about it being desirable to keep cholesterol levels low, recent research shows that very low cholesterol levels (<160 mg) may be just as unhealthy as very high the cholesterol levels. Unfortunately the dangers of low cholesterol have been less well publicized. There is a wealth of articles and health books that discuss how to prevent high cholesterol, but very few on how to prevent or treat abnormally low cholesterol. Abnormally low levels of cholesterol are termed hypocholesterolemia. What we don’t often hear is the important fact that cholesterol is vital to human life.
- Abnormally low levels of cholesterol may indicate:
- Hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid gland
- Liver disease
- Inadequate absorption of nutrients from the intestines
- Poor metabolism
- Compromised health
Similarly, patients with environmental illness often have low cholesterol including those with sensitivity to foods, chemical or frequencies, like Wi-Fi. Infertility has been linked to low cholesterol.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like compound that belongs to a class of molecules called steroids. It’s found in many foods, in your bloodstream and in all your body’s cells. If you had a handful of cholesterol, it might feel like a soft, melted candle. Cholesterol is essential for:
- Formation and maintenance of cell membranes (essential for life)
- Formation of sex hormones (progesterone, testosterone, estradiol, cortisol)
- Production of bile salts, which help to digest food
- Conversion into vitamin D in the skin when exposed to sunlight.
Cholesterol is made primarily in your liver (about 1,000 milligrams a day), but it is also created by cells lining the small intestine and by individual cells in the body. Very low cholesterol may mean your body is “shutting down”.
Low cholesterol is not healthy. In 1990, a NIH conference concluded from a meta-analysis of 19 studies that men and, to a lesser extent, women with a total serum cholesterol level below 160 mg (6th percentile) exhibited about a 10% to 20% excess total mortality compared with those with a cholesterol level between 160 to 199 mg.Meilahn, Elaine, MD Circulation, 1995; 92:2365-2366
In 19 large studies of more than 68,000 deaths, reviewed by Professor David R. Jacobs and his co-workers from the Division of Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, low cholesterol predicted an increase risk of dying from gastrointestinal and respiratory disease. Professor Jacobs and Dr. Iribarren, followed more than 100,000 healthy individuals in the San Francisco area for fifteen years. At the end of the study, those that had low cholesterol at the start of the study had more often been admitted to the hospital because of an infection.
Iribarren et al, Circulation. 1995;92:2396-2403 goes beyond the usual classification of “low cholesterol” based on a single measure and instead have examined future disease risk according to whether cholesterol level was stable over about 6 years or whether low cholesterol resulted from falling blood cholesterol levels.
Among nearly 6000 healthy Japanese-American men enrolled in the Honolulu Heart Study, they measured total serum cholesterol at two time points, with mortality follow-up extending for up to 16 years. Results showed the expected association of elevated cholesterol with coronary disease. In addition,falling levels of cholesterol were linked to an excess risk of liver disease and cancer in particular.
According to Lewington, research into the causes of this state (low cholesterol) is relatively limited, but some studies suggest a link with depression, cancer, and cerebral hemorrhage. Lewington S, et al,Lancet (December 2007).1829.
It is well known that 50% of patients who have a heart attack have normal cholesterol. Cardio Vascular Disease (CVD) is caused by inflammation. Therefore, it is a much better practice to eliminate the inflammation then to lower cholesterol to an abnormally low range and increase health risks.
A new study published in the American Heart Journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, January, 2009 found that nearly two-thirds of patients admitted to hospitals for heart attacks and cardiovascular events had low LDL-cholesterol levels, indicating they were not at high risk for heart problems. Yet — in another extraordinary example of ad-hoc reasoning — the authors concluded that since most heart attacks are occurring in people with low cholesterol levels, that this provided support for lowering the LDL-cholesterol goals even further!
Cholesterol…contrary to current dogma, is an extremely important cell wall membrane fat, with the emphasis on “extremely”. Cholesterol is not only a vital cellular molecule; it is also a large part of us, as it occupies 30-40% of our cell wall membrane. Gurr, Mi, et al, Lipid Biochemistry: An Introduction, reprint 2004.
The membrane is the structural skin that surrounds the cell and the organelles in it. But it is far more than an outside protective layer—-it is literally the essence of life! The membrane is the lining of every nerve cell. It manages the production of energy. It manages all of our senses. The liver alone has ~ 300,000 square feet of membrane. That’s more than 4 football fields; 4.63 to be exact.
Cholesterol makes vital hormones such as the adrenal, our fight or flight hormones and our sex hormones, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. It is important for the metabolism of fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K, and is the precursor for bile acids which manages our fatty acid intake. Cholesterol supports a strong membrane structure which equated to a strong overall metabolism. Most, not all, individuals with high cholesterol have a strong metabolism…..and they know it. Even, airborne disturbances such as pollen with its potential for allergy, etc. have less impact on individuals with high cholesterol. Tierney et al, American Journal of Medicine, 2006; 141, demonstrated low cholesterol was associated with mental capabilities from borderline intellectual functioning to profound mental retardation.
Patricia Kane, Ph.D., “Women who are having a difficult time with unexplained infertility often will have low cholesterol. As the diet is expanded to include essential fatty acids and Phosphatidylcholine (prominent in the cell wall) the hormones derived from cholesterol normalize and pregnancy rates have been shown to increase.”
It may surprise you to know that our bodies make all the cholesterol we need. When your doctor takes a blood test to measure your cholesterol level, the doctor is actually measuring the amount of circulating cholesterol in your blood, or your blood cholesterol level. About 85 percent of your blood cholesterol level is produced by your body. The other 15 percent or so comes from an external source — your diet. Your dietary cholesterol originates from meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and dairy products. It’s possible for some people to eat foods high in cholesterol and still have low blood cholesterol levels. Likewise, it’s possible to eat foods low in cholesterol and have a high blood cholesterol level.
So, what do you do?
- Have a comprehensive lipid panel which includes, cholesterol, LDL (buoyant and dense), HDL (HDL 2B), C-Reactive Protein, VLDL, homocysteine, and insulin
- Test your red blood cell fatty acids. The Kennedy Krieger Institute – Johns Hopkins University is the premier fatty acid testing laboratory in the world.
Eat your way to health.
Consume a diet of pure fats and oils. Support the health of your cell membrane with pure, unprocessed, organic oils in your diet. Liberal use of seeds, nuts, cold pressed fats, and oils is highly recommended with reduction of carbohydrate intake. Organic butter, cream, meat fats, and eggs contain essential fats and should be included in your diet. To cook foods at high temperatures such as stir-frying or sautéing food use coconut oil, avocado oil, or olive oil.
Eliminate all chemically processed oils/fats. Partially hydrogenated or trans fats are toxic to the liver and brain, cause high cholesterol (LDL) and contribute to such difficulties such as fatigue, toxicity, neuro-degenerative disorders, aging, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, mood disorders, immune abnormalities and cardiovascular disease. Essential fats found in pure, unprocessed fats and oils are crucial to all cellular function. Processed fats and oils must be completely avoided—-margarine, vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut butter, Crisco, commercial mayonnaise (Hellman’s, Best Food’s, Miracle whip) and salad dressing.
Eat certified organically grown foods. At this time in history, we are under the greatest of pressures. Literally thousands of harmful chemicals are in the food, air, and water. Pesticides, herbicides, endocrine disruptors, dyes, chemicals, antibiotics, heavy metals, and hormone residues contaminate the food supply. Avoidance is the best way to protect yourself and your family from harmful toxins.
Eat whole foods. Processed foods are manipulated and changed in a way to extend the shelf life of the food. They are less nutritious as many vitamins and nutrients are lost in the process. Stay as close to nature as possible in eating. If the bugs won’t eat it, we shouldn’t either.
Eat pasture raised meats, free range poultry/ eggs and wild ocean fish.www.eatwild.com and www.themeatrix.com are good resources. Farm raised fish should also be avoided as these fish are fed an unnatural diet of corn, soy, dog food and wastes and do not have the essential fats found in ocean fish. Fish to be consumed would include wild Alaska Salmon and small body fish such as sardines. Obtain from www.vitalchoice.com salmon, halibut, and tuna that safe to consume.
Since cholesterol is 30-40% of our cell wall “mem-Brain” which protects and manages critical metabolic functions, including mental acuity, sex, and reproduction, why would we want to dispose of so much of it? Life, health, and cholesterol are all about balance.
Special note: My thanks to Dr. Patricia Kane. She is a world expert on fatty acid metabolism and neurological disorders, for her contributions to this article.