egg yolk

We have been told for more than 50 years that cholesterol is our enemy–that it causes heart attacks and strokes and the lower it is the healthier we are. But some physicians are beginning to question the cholesterol connection to heart disease. Cardiologists Robert DuBroff and Michel de Lorgeril offer a fascinating glimpse into “Cholesterol Confusion and Statin Controversy” at this link (World Journal of Cardiology, July 26, 2015).

According to a cardiology friend of ours: “you can’t have too low a golf score or cholesterol levels.” Some readers wonder, though, if that is always true.

Q. My father takes Niaspan and atorvastatin (Lipitor), which have lowered his cholesterol to 110. Isn’t that too low?

He has severe arthritis, memory problems and debilitating fatigue. I worry that he is taking too much medicine, but he says the doctor knows best and refuses to question him.

A. The issue of whether cholesterol can be too low remains controversial. There is evidence, however, that low cholesterol levels may increase a person’s risk of stroke caused by bleeding within the brain (Stroke, July, 2013). The authors note that “Higher level of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol [so-called bad LDL cholesterol] seems to be associated with lower risk of hemorrhagic stroke.”

There is evolving evidence that if a person suffers a thrombotic stroke (caused by a blood clot) that low levels of LDL cholesterol may increase the risk that this kind of stroke could be transformed into a more dangerous bleeding (hemorrhagic) stroke (European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, 2016).

Depression and Cholesterol Levels?

Researchers have also found that depression is more common in people with very low cholesterol. A meta-analysis involving more than 30 studies revealed a link between low serum LDL cholesterol levels and depression (Journal of Affective Disorders, July 19, 2016).

Let’s not forget that the sheath around neurons (myelin) contains cholesterol. We suspect this was not an accident of nature. The authors of the above article note that some researchers have hypothesized that:

“the mechanism guiding the relationship between low cholesterol and depression pathogenesis may, at least in part, involve cholesterol-mediated alterations in nerve terminal structure and function.”

Balancing Risks and Benefits of Cholesterol:

Very high LDL cholesterol probably puts a person at risk of a heart attack or stroke caused by a blood clot. Like Goldilocks and the porridge, we think there is probably a middle ground between too high and too low. Finding that balance remains tricky and controversial.

Some people have found that cholesterol medications such as simvastatin (Zocor) or atorvastatin (Lipitor) may contribute to fatigue, arthritis or memory problems. A Mediterranean-type diet may actually help reduce the risk of heart problems without causing the side effects some people experience with statins.

We summarize information on a range of factors, the dangers of too low cholesterol and guidelines for optimal levels in our Guide to Heart Health. You can also find a wide range ways to help control cholesterol in our book, Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy. You will learn much more about the dark side of statins and the optimal range for blood fats like cholesterol. Perhaps your father will be willing to read the information in our book and discuss it with his physician.

Revised by Joe Graedon: 9/1/16

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  1. Emmie

    I think my cholesterol is lower than average but my docs always say that it is good. I have been following a healthy diet for many years. I don’t eat red meat or pork. I eat lots of vegetables and fruits. I drink lots of water. I eat fish, chicken and turkey. I don’t have clinical depression but I do get low sometimes. I am 61 years old and am most concerned if my low cholesterol levels may be affecting my memory.

  2. Bill
    katy, tx

    I thought Ancel Keys’ total cholesterol myth had been discredited for several years now. Even the effect of higher LDL as reported in People’s recently is now considered protective for those 60 and older–according to a BMJ meta study of 68,000 people looking at all causes of death. Is the above article a repeat from a much earlier issue?

  3. Barb

    Diet and exercise are good, but I am one of those people with a family history of heart disease, including high cholesterol, and I have high cholesterol as well. I HAVE to be on a statin and I experienced the body aches and fatigue that people speak of.

    What I found helped me quit a bit with the muscle pain and fatigue was adding COQ10 as a supplement. Doing this seemed to handle the aches and pains. I recommend it.

  4. Betty

    MODERATION! My wise old mother said, “Moderation!” Eat things in moderation. I really like that thought.

  5. Stephen F B

    I just got back from my doctor and he said all my cholesterol markers are low. I take no medications at all. Does anybody have any ideas?

  6. fbl

    What was your cholesterol number to begin with before medication? What is it now?

  7. cjh

    I was taking 80 mg of Lipitor and felt just terrible. Muscle aches were the problem. I cut them in half and most of the problem went away. But my numbers went back up so I began taking 40 in the am and 40 in the pm per my Dr’s instructions and now I feel awful again. I did start eating avocados because I read on this web site that they might help.
    I had one Tuesday and another Friday and plan on eating two a week to see what happens. Yesterday and today I played Sr. softball and felt miserable and totally worn out last night and again today. I had time for an long nap today and feel much better.
    I will be 65 in Feb and try to stay in shape. I jog about 3 times a week for about a 1/2 hr. I think I will go back to just 40 mg and see what happens. He suggested that I take CQ10 along with the Lipitor. Maybe I will try it.

  8. Mike C.

    Simvastatin caused me memory loss I dropped it and my memory improved.

  9. fbl

    Every body is different and yes, the cholesterol drug can cause memory problems. Cholesterol is essential to every nerve in the body. So it can cause nerve and muscle problems as well.
    When my hubby’s cholesterol went way over 300 I wouldn’t allow him to take the drugs. Instead we worked on diet and added a few supplements. Now his cholesterol is perfect at 220. Anything under 300 is OK but do not go much under 200 or you will have problems… such as what you have now.
    When we worked on the diet I mean we got rid of all the grocery store oils! Well, except for Extra Virgin Olive Oil. We use only organic coconut oil and palm oil, olive oil and the drippings from our our organic chemical-free bacon. Also organic butter and cream. Unfortunately my cholesterol is too low at 110 and yes, I have had some problems with stroke, cancer and heart attack! I think trauma from the shoulder harness caused the problems to my heart as they started right after the auto accident. I am taking a supplement now to hopefully increase it.
    The cancer? My vitamin D level was barely 20 and it has taken my Dr and me many years trying to get it up. Only after my old vitamin company screwed up their calcium supplement with too much D3 did my level finally get where it should be.

  10. Dot F.

    My husband’s cholesterol level was 88 and we thought that was great, the lower the better, right? Then we found out he had liver disease and needed a transplant. You are right, a good balance is essential.

  11. Paul43

    I would like to hear if anyone out there taking SIMVASTATIN suffers from fatigue, or memory problems.
    I take 20mg of simvastatin and since I have been taking it I know my “short term memory” is definitely fading

  12. crandreww

    Your fathers doctor should be stopped!! 110? Where is the rationale for this…. not even the obvious and blatantly skewed “clinical trials” work with cholesterol this low… I am so sorry to hear that your father, like so many people, put all of their trust in their doctor… Does your father have any Coronary Heart disease history? Even this would not justify those numbers….. all this is doing is turning your father into a patient for life.
    We need Cholesterol like we need water and air… it is absolutely necessary… doctors work for the people, like Painters etc… if he does not do the job you hired him to do, fire him and find a different doctor. Health Care in this country has gotten so scary, and greedy… reply to this message if you want the name of a few books which will open your eyes..

    • Laura

      I don’t know if you’re still reading this site or how you might see this. But, CRANDREWW, I would be interested in the books. Thank you.

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