Cholesterol: Lower Is Not Always Better

| December 27, 2012 | Comments (2)

When we hear the word ‘cholesterol’ it’s easy to imagine this fat-like substance whooshing around in the bloodstream and perhaps contributing to the build-up of ‘atherosclerotic plaque’ on the inside of artery walls. However, we should perhaps not forget that cholesterol is an essential body constituent and, for example, is a basic building block within the membranes of the body’s cells including those in the brain. It is perhaps interesting to note that in the elderly, low levels of cholesterol are associated with worse health outcomes, including an enhanced risk of death. This sort of evidence does not mean that low cholesterol can kill people, but perhaps serves as a reminder of cholesterol’s vital role within the body.

Cholesterol – how low do you go?

I was interested to read the summary of a recent article which appeared in the journal Neurologia [1] which reminds us of cholesterol’s essential function. The article outlined treatments that the authors believe are inappropriate in individuals suffering from ‘cognitive decline’ – essentially compromised brain functioning that is not bad enough to be labelled ‘dementia’. They, for example, make the case that blood pressure in these individuals should be maintained at a reasonable level, recommending that the systolic blood pressure (the higher of the two blood pressure readings) should be above 130 mmHg. This makes sense, of course, when one considers that it is blood pressure that ‘forces’ blood into organs such as the brain to provide oxygen and nutrients, and lower blood pressures may do this less effectively. Of course we don’t want blood pressure to be too high, but we don’t want it too low either.

The authors of this article also point out the fact that low blood levels of cholesterol are associated with worse health outcomes, and specifically an increased risk of aggressiveness and suicide. In their view, total cholesterol levels should be kept above 160 mg/dl (4.1 mmol/l).

Some researchers and commentators in the scientific community have attempted to popularise the ‘lower is better’ mantra in reference to blood pressure and cholesterol. However, my own view is that this stance is nonsense. For example, when blood pressure is low enough it kills people, and between that extreme and ‘normal’ blood pressure there are low blood pressure that can obviously compromise health and vitality. So, clearly, lower is not always better at all. And the same, it appears, is true of cholesterol. I think the authors of this review should be applauded for taking a more balanced (and common-sense) approach to the management of blood pressure and cholesterol issues.

They also raise the issue that medications, and particularly multiple medications, may actually be at the root of cognitive impairment in some individuals. It’s nice to see some doctors recognising that lower is not always better, and that when it comes to medical management, less can be more.

Here’s to a healthy heart

Dr John Briffa
for The Cholesterol Truth
Dr. John Briffa

Bear in mind all the material in this email alert is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


1. Robles Bayon A, et al. Inappropriate treatments for patients with cognitive decline. Neurologia 2012 Oct 9. [Epub ahead of print]

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Category: Cardiovascular Risks, Latest Cholesterol News, The Great Cholesterol Con, What Doctors Don't Tell You

Comments (2)

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  1. Carol Walker says:

    I have just had a cholesterol reading of 6.9. This ratio of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ did not fare well either. While I can’t think of anything that would persuade me to commence a treatment of statins, I am concerned that the reading is high. My diet is not cholesterol based; that is, not high in processed foods or meats. Is this reading too high, or still within the limits?

    • Editor says:

      Considering that official guidelines for cholesterol was between 5 – 6, 30 years ago, perhaps your reading is not that high… Other than your doctor saying your cholesterol levels is putting you at risk, why would you want to lower the levels of a naturally occurring substance in your body that has an essential function in every sell of your body? On The Cholesterol Truth there are numerous articles about why cholesterol is not the villain it is made out to be and also how to reduce inflammation (the real culprit) to keep your heart health, without the need to take side effect-ridden statin drugs.

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