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Are There Risks from Low Cholesterol?

Q. I had a hemorrhagic stroke a few years ago. I have low cholesterol (155) with an HDL of 58 and LDL of 86.

I have never taken any cholesterol lowering drugs. I have read on your website that there is a connection between low cholesterol and a risk of bleeding stroke, but the references were old. Is there more recent evidence that low cholesterol could be a risk factor for a stroke like mine?

A. A recent review in the journal Stroke (online, May 23, 2013) analyzed data from 23 studies with more than one million participants. The analysis revealed a connection between lower cholesterol levels and a greater risk of hemorrhagic stroke.

This seems contrary to popular belief that the lower your cholesterol the healthier you are. In addition, a study from Japan involving over 80,000 adults found that the more saturated fat people consumed, the lower their risk for bleeding stroke (European Heart Journal, online, April 21, 2013).  At some point, however, increased saturated fat intake raises the risk of heart attacks. The trick seems to be finding the right balance. You will find more information on cholesterol and its role in coronary disease in our Guide to Cholesterol Control & Heart Health.  It also contains a discussion of the potential hazards of too-low cholesterol.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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