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High Cholesterol Message Board

High Cholesterol Board Index

How low can you go?
May 28, 2004

Found this:

Too much cholesterol is not good, but too little may not be good either. The American Heart Association announced in 1999 (at the annual Stroke Conference) that people with cholesterol levels less than 180 mg/dL doubled their risk of hemorrhagic stroke compared to those with cholesterol levels of 230 mg/dL; however, the risk of a stroke escalated as cholesterol levels exceeded 230 mg/dL. It is estimated that high cholesterol levels account for about 10-15% of ischemic strokes; low cholesterol may be a contributing factor in nearly 7% of hemorrhagic strokes. The National Cholesterol Education Program announced that cholesterol levels of approximately 200 mg/dL appear ideal for stroke prevention (CNN 1999; Mercola 1999).

Nonetheless, opinions are still divided as to the magnitude of the hypocholesterolemic risk. Until the quandary has been fully resolved, there are reasons to be cautious about severely reducing dietary fat and serum cholesterol. Recall that in foods, triglycerides carry the fat-soluble vitamins (including vitamin K, an extremely important nutrient in normal blood coagulation) (Whitney et al. 1998). In addition, some researchers believe that hypocholesterolemia weakens cerebral arterial walls, making breakage under pressure more likely (Hama 2001). (About 20% of all strokes result from cerebral hemorrhages.) Various studies indicate that very low levels of cholesterol may also increase the risk of death due to cancer, particularly leukemia and lung cancer (Zyada et al. 1990; Telega et al. 2000).

Cholesterol is so important that the body produces from 800-1500 mg each day to provide for the following metabolic processes:

Cholesterol is present in every cell in the body, strengthening cell walls and assisting in the exchange of nutrients and waste materials across membranes.
The central nervous system, composed of the brain and spinal cord, contains nearly one-fourth of the body's store of cholesterol. As much as 50% of myelin (the insulating sheath on many nerve fibers) is cholesterol. Cholesterol is essential for the conduction of nerve impulses.
Bile acids, formed from cholesterol, are vital for proper fat digestion.
Cholesterol is the precursor of adrenal and reproductive steroid hormones.
Surface cholesterol makes the skin resistant to chemicals and disease organisms, hindering entry through pores. Cholesterol stored in the skin assists in converting sunlight to vitamin D.
Although high concentrations of total serum cholesterol are related to mortality in individuals younger than 65 years, clinical trials have failed (until recently) to look at large numbers of individuals (> 70 years of age) to assess their response to higher cholesterol levels. According to data published in The Lancet, the risk imposed by hypercholesterolemia decreases with age (Weverling-Rijnsburger et al. 1997; Schatz et al. 2001). In fact, hypocholesterolemia (low cholesterol levels) appears associated with higher death rates among elderly people, due to mortality from cancer and infection. Therefore, administering a hypocholesterolemic drug to senior subjects may actually increase their risk of succumbing through other forms of degenerative disease.

Dr. Steven Whiting, dean of the Institute of Nutritional Science, explains how cholesterol can change from an essential sterol to an atheromatous material. Free radicals and hypertension can damage the inside of an artery, causing a small rupture or tear to occur. The body recognizes the problem and attempts to handle it with the materials available. Fibrin, a stringy, insoluble protein, is the first material laid down at a wound sight. Fibrin does what it must: seal or coat the damaged area in the artery. Unfortunately, fibrin can grasp other bloodstream infiltrates in its web-like structure, that is, collagen proteins and minerals that have precipitated out of solution. According to Dr. Whiting, a significant bump in the arterial pathway may have developed and then along comes cholesterol. Cholesterol appears to add the final coat to the plaque, building up in the artery (Whiting 1989).

Optimal Ranges of Blood Lipids
When levels of HDL (high density lipoproteins, also known as good cholesterol) are elevated, cardiovascular disease is reduced. The HDL2 subfraction is even more correlated with cardiac protection and longevity than total HDL cholesterol (Sardesai 1998). Typically, low triglyceride/LDL levels and high HDL levels place an individual in a better position cardiovascularly. HDL levels are considered desirable in a range of 50-70 mg/dL.

Total cholesterol for most individuals appears best managed between 180-200 mg/dL. The "how low can you go" logic is not wise when setting relevant cholesterol goals, considering the many functions assigned to cholesterol and the unsettled questions surrounding the safety of very low cholesterol levels.

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