Q. Your column about the dangers of low cholesterol caught my attention.

For years I avoided all fat in my diet but then I was unable to conceive. After including fat in my diet briefly I became pregnant but lost the baby when I returned to my no-fat regimen.

After the miscarriage my gynecologist told me my cholesterol (94) was not sufficient for making the sex hormones I need to sustain a pregnancy. I changed my diet, raised my cholesterol to 114, and had a healthy, normal, successful pregnancy.

I am no longer willing to eat and live like a fanatic. I now eat a more balanced diet with more vegetable-derived fat and keep my cholesterol around 114.

A. Some people incorrectly assume that cholesterol is harmful. While too much is dangerous, we could not survive without it. Cholesterol is a building block for cell membranes and a number of hormones. Cholesterol also appears to affect mood. Very low levels may predispose some people to depression.

The healthiest range for cholesterol seems to be between 140 and 200. As you found, an extreme diet avoiding all fat can drop cholesterol levels below this range and is not healthy.

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  1. Peter D.

    My latest blood test, 10/24/2012 shows my Cholesterol is 81, Triglyceride 21,HDL Chol. 39, TC/HDL Chol. ratio 2.1 and LDL Chol. 38. Is this dangerous as some people say?
    I am 79 and take Crestor, Tricor, Niaspan,and several other meds I don’t think have anything to do with Cholesterol. I’m interested to see what you think.

  2. SH

    What is the best way to lower triglycerides?
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: A diet that is low in carbohydrate, or at least low in glycemic load (does not raise blood sugar or insulin much) is probably the best way to lower triglycerides. It works well and the only side effect is a reduced risk of high blood sugar.

  3. dizzy

    My triglycerides are 46mg. My HDL is 42mg. My LDL is 39mg. And my total cholesterol is 90mg and marked as below low normal. Should I be worried? If there are any concerns, what can I do to fix it?

  4. KT

    Unless those numbers are a typo, your doctor is a quack.

  5. ebm

    Boy, are you right on — and all fired up! I have seen friends deteriorate from BP and
    statin drugs to the point of no longer being able to function mentally and physically.
    My special man-friend was on a walker within a week of being switched from simvastatin to Crestor and a few days later he was on a walker because of leg and backpain all over.
    I had read about it and he stopped the meds and was better within a week. He was lucky, others who think Drs are GODS suffer on. I am 71 and take no meds, except an occasional aspirin or nsaid for headache or backpain. I found that heat and stretching relieve backpain very well, so does movement.
    Keep on shouting!

  6. SCH

    How do you arrive at your cholesterol level? My LDL is 125, my HDL is 47. Does that mean that my total cholesterol is 172? I’m confused. My Dr. says my cholesterol is high.

  7. HJL

    Carol B.,
    Famial hypercholesterolaemia is a category killer and all general rules are inapplicable. You should not change anything unless approved by your Dr. That said, the more modern research and approaches for the normal folk appear to downgrade total cholesterol as predictive of heart problems.
    The single best predictor appears to be triglycerides. Lo carbs is associated with low triglycerides and high HDLs which are both good. Your high LDLs may or may not be a problem. There are different fractions of LDLs and it appears that a lo carb diet while modestly increasing LDLs generally, predominantly increases the “light fluffy” LDLs which appear to be benign and perhaps helpful. Westman’s book on The New Atkins Diet explains most of this and is reader friendly. Gary Taubes’ 2 books are more scientific and the newer one is more reader friendly but tougher than Westman.

  8. Carol B

    @ HJL: I would be very interested in reading any research that supports your assertion that ingested animal fat is not a factor in over-production of cholesterol.
    I have familial hypercholesterolaemia; a couple of years past menopause my body became an astonishingly efficient cholesterol factory. After a major blockage was found in my heart, I became a strict vegetarian – I eat only vegetables, fruit and grains. I have no plaque remaining in my arteries but, oddly, still show high levels of both LDLs and HDLs.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: People with inherited hypercholesterolemia may indeed need to be on a very strict low-fat diet. We’re delighted that your strict vegetarian fare has worked well for you.
    Surprisingly, though, in several studies the data do not demonstrate that a low-fat diet makes a difference in blood lipids for “normal” folks. In fact, a couple of well-controlled trials with an Atkins diet suggests that blood lipids actually improve on this high-fat diet. Hard to believe, we agree. Nevertheless, the data are the data.

  9. HJL

    New research is proving that animal fat is not dangerous as long as carbs and especially sugars (particularly fructose is low). Eating only vegetable fats can lead to an imbalance of ingested fats because the omega 3s are too low. Flaxseed is increasingly being criticized as not doing the job because of its component Omega 3s. Fish 2-3 times a week should do it or at least take krill or fish oil.

  10. RLB

    Every time I see an article like this, it makes my blood boil. Millions of people are being deprived of essential nutrients, the ability to convert vitamins, (D is the best example), testosterone, and others. We are threatened with a skyrocketing epidemic of Alzheimers, hypo and hyperthyroidism (due to the reduced consumption of iodized salt) and, unfortunately an entire profession, supposedly dedicated to our welfare who, on average, know less about nutrition than the average pig knows about flying.
    We are being educated to the “fact” that cholesterol, salt, fat and sugar are poison and must be avoided. Our children are drugged almost from birth. The average senior takes at least three prescriptions for each ten years of life after 55. (I had a friend who at 77 was taking 16). Our medical profession has totally signed on to “better living through chemistry”.
    Until the doctors return to being doctors rather than interpreters of computer data and reliance on sources with agendas to sell pharmaceuticals, the average patient puts him/herself at risk every time they visit a doctor.

  11. KC

    Very informative. I know cholesterol is important to overall health, that’s why the body makes it and extremes in anything usually aren’t good. All cholesterol medications say not to take it if you are pregnant because of the need for cholesterol in pregnancy.
    But this is the first time I have seen the link between low cholesterol and depression – information I have searched for many times. Why? Because over 10 years ago when I was put on my first statin for high LDLs and low HDLs I was hit with severe major depression shortly after. I still take statins and my cholesterol is around 150 and I still have the depression which responds perfectly to medication. Perhaps a strict diet and a little more cholesterol would have kept me healthier.

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