egg yolk, eat eggs

You’ve probably heard the expression that “you can’t be too rich or too thin.” We would disagree with the idea that you can’t be too thin. Just ask health professionals who treat people with anorexia nervosa. Many physicians go one step further. They believe that you can’t have too low cholesterol naturally. If that does not occur, they like to add cholesterol-lowering drugs. Millions of people are taking statins for precisely that reason. Are there any complications if your cholesterol levels go really low? That’s this reader’s question.

He Has Low Cholesterol Naturally

Q. I am 46 years old. For as long as I can remember, I have had low cholesterol on my blood work.

I donated blood last week and my total cholesterol was 107. While most people would say, “Wow, that’s great,” I heard that too low cholesterol could be bad. Should I be concerned or be happy with this low number? If it is a problem, what should I be watching for?

A. A cardiologist we know likes to say you can’t have too low a golf score or cholesterol level. That is certainly the prevailing view.

There is research, however, suggesting that very low cholesterol naturally may increase the risk of hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke (Neurology Clinical Practice, June, 2018; Stroke, July, 2013).

Fortunately, such strokes are relatively rare. Heart attacks are far more common. That said, you should discuss your concerns with your doctor. It is unlikely, though, that you will be advised to eat foods that might raise your cholesterol levels. A recent review found that when Japanese people eat more saturated fat, their risk of stroke drops (Journal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis, May 1, 2018).  This does not appear to hold for people who are not Japanese.

If you ever experience possible symptoms of hemorrhagic stroke, including sudden severe headache, dizziness, one-sided weakness, nausea and vomiting or trouble speaking or swallowing, treat it as a medical emergency.

Low Cholesterol Naturally and Risk of Death?

My friend the cardiologist who is fond of a low golf score and cholesterol level never saw this article in The Lancet (Aug. 4, 2001).  It was titled “Cholesterol and all-cause mortality in elderly people from the Honolulu Heart Program: a cohort study.” The researchers measured lipid and cholesterol levels in Japanese Americans in Hawaii. They tracked changes over 20 years and compared them with mortality stats. This work relates to older people rather than middle-aged folks.

The authors write:

“Our data accord with previous findings of increased mortality in elderly people with low serum cholesterol, and show that long-term persistence of low cholesterol concentration actually increases risk of death. Thus, the earlier that patients start to have lower cholesterol concentrations, the greater the risk of death.”

Needless to say, these researchers were puzzled by their results. They wondered if this might be a Japanese thing:

“Is this low/low effect unique to individuals of Japanese ethnic extraction? There is no evidence to support such a contention. Risk factors for atherosclerosis in Japanese are much the same as those for whites.”

Dr. Steve Nissen on Low Cholesterol:

Dr. Nissen is a world-famous cardiologist. We recently spoke to him about cholesterol-lowering drugs and lifestyle approaches to heart health. Dr. Nissen loves statins, but he also emphasizes the need to lower cholesterol naturally. Why not listen to this free interview at this link. You can stream the audio for free by clicking on the green arrow above Dr. Nissen’s photograph. You can also download the FREE mp3 file.

Show 1147: How Do You Control Your Cholesterol?

Learn more about the low cholesterol and statin side effects in our Guide to Cholesterol Control & Heart Health.

Share your thoughts and experiences with low cholesterol in the comment section below.

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  1. Cna
    California
    Reply

    My husband tried to increase his cholesterol. He was not vegetarian. He ate eggs, shrimp, beef, etc. with no increase whatsoever. The effect however, was pancreatitis. He also was diagnosed with fatty liver. Doctors did not believe he rarely drank alcohol. When he did have a beer or alcohol, he had pain in the area of the pancreas. His diagnosis, see below, showed a liver unable to pick up fat and convert it to cholesterol and a pancreas that does not have the enzymes. I, on the other hand have MS, and eat a high fat diet for my brain. Cholesterol is important! It definitely can be too low!

  2. Brandy
    NC
    Reply

    I have heard doctors say they are never worried about low cholesterol. However, I got tested once and my good cholesterol was 28 and my bad was 40. A pharmacist told me I should work to increase my good cholesterol (that this mattered more than just having low bad). I was vegetarian at the time. Now that I’m not, my numbers have gone up to healthier levels.

  3. Cna
    California
    Reply

    My husband has almost 0, no, LDL’s. When we married he tried to get life insurance. He was denied, time and again. His cholesterol back then was under 75. We researched and found the reasons why low LDL is a risk. Insurance companies would not give him life insurance. He was diagnosed with sjogrens, had complaint about thinking problems, and generally felt he was not well. He is 6 foot and 180. He eats all day long. Had to drink coffee to focus, like 6 cups a day. Finally a Dr. Sent him to UCLA. They told him he has a genetic deformity in his liver. Hypobetalipoprotenemia. His body cannot make cholesterol. As a result, he is on hormone therapy, enzymes to increase nutrient absorption, but has chronic bouts of pancreatitis among other health issues. Sorry this is so long but it is a long complicated story…hope it helps someone…

  4. Sylvia
    Florida
    Reply

    lgnorance regarding cholesterol boggles my mind. People (including doctors) need to read basic biology and take note of all the functions of cholesterol in our bodies. Our brains contain lots of cholesterol; our cell membranes are made of cholesterol.We don’t make new cells without it. All our hormones are made from cholesterol.

    My husband had heart bypass surgery, and his cholesterol level was never above 160. However, his triglycerides were high, and he has diabetes.

  5. Maggie
    MI
    Reply

    My brother, who has Parkinson’s, has very low cholesterol.

  6. Sherry
    Waxhaw, NC
    Reply

    Don’t let low cholesterol numbers fool you. My husband had perfect numbers, no statins needed and had a slight heart attack in June and needed a stent put in to his 99.9% blocked artery. He is 73 years old.

  7. Bob L.
    Tampa, Florida
    Reply

    So at what point is cholesterol too low? Is there a number? I have read that very low LDL, like under 70, can actually reverse plaque in the coronary arteries. Again, like with so many other controversial health topics (consumption of coffee, wine, fat, sugar, etc.) I am left confused by the ‘research’.

  8. Robert
    Connecticut
    Reply

    I have read two reports from PubMed that low cholesterol correlates with dementia. One came out of Hawaii, another from the Framingham heart study. One of them, I think it was Framingham, reported a linear relationship between the onset of dementia and a decrease in cholesterol level below 200. This makes sense to me because white matter is cholesterol. Also, where is the definitive evidence for the connection between cholesterol and heart disease? I haven’t seen it and I’ve looked. Statins do help, as I read, in cases where people have had a cardiac event, but I don’t read that it’s because they reduce cholesterol. It could be because they act as anti-inflammatories. I have seen different brands of statins compared to each other and compared to nothing, but I have never seen one compared to, say, aspirin.

  9. Luke
    Florida
    Reply

    Are you sure the higher risk of death is more associated with lower BMI and not lower cholesterol? Risk of fatal fall is much higher if a person is underweight. Our bodies make all the serum cholesterol (a steroid) it needs for cellular stability and it is stored in our animal fat. The meat industry and consumption of animal products including eggs and cheeses produce a nation high in cholesterol along with sedentary lifestyles which is why cardiac disease and strokes are the leading causes of death in USA. Something like 386,000+ die a year in USA of heart attacks.

  10. Nancy
    NJ
    Reply

    I think you should not show eggs when you have an article on cholesterol when we know eggs do not affect cholesterol.

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