Listen to the advice given by many doctors and scientists, and you’d soon believe that cholesterol is a killer substance that needs to be tamed. Yet, the reality is that it’s a natural substance, present in every cell membrane in your body and essential for normal cell function. It’s also a basic building block of many essential hormones in your body, as well as vitamin D.
Most of the cholesterol in your bloodstream is made in your liver. When individuals reduce cholesterol in their diets, their liver will generally ramp up production. In other words, the body seems to like to keep cholesterol levels from falling too low.
This fact almost certainly reflects how essential cholesterol is to life and health. Other evidence of this comes in the form of studies, which link low levels of cholesterol with an enhanced risk of death, principally from cancer. I’ve written about this in a previous post, click here for more details:
It’s also been noted that low levels of so-called ‘unhealthy’ LDL-cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of depression, click here for full details. In this post, I explained how your brain is a very ‘cholesterol-rich’ organ, and how cholesterol is essential for the proper functioning of ‘synapses’ – where one nerve cell communicates with another.
Synapses are essentially tiny ‘gaps’ that occur between nerve cells. Communication between nerve cells is mediated by the release of chemicals (neurotransmitters) that float across the ‘gaps’ and attach to receptors on the adjoining nerve cells. There are many different neurotransmitters in your brain, but one of the key ones is serotonin. This chemical exerts an anti-depressant and ‘feel good’ affect in the brain. It’s the brain chemical that anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac (fluoxetine) are designed to potentiate in the brain.
Given that cholesterol is essential to the proper functioning of synapses, and that serotonin exerts its effects in these structures, could it be that impeding the supply of cholesterol to the brain might cause problems here?
This is essentially the question that was asked by some researchers based in Hyderabad, in India. For the purpose of their research, animals were treated with the statin (cholesterol-lowering) drug mevastatin. In the long term, this was found to change both the structure and function of the serotonin receptors on nerve cells. The implications of this are profound, because impaired serotonin functioning in the brain increases the risk of anxiety and depression. Perhaps it is no surprise, therefore, that evidence exists, which reveals how statins can alter mood and, in particular, how they have the potential to trigger depression .
In the Indian study, the researchers went on to see what happened when more cholesterol was made available again. In these circumstances, serotonin functioning was restored.
Their findings should remind us that cholesterol is a vital constituent in the body. The fact that the body fights to make more of it if we reduce supply, via our diet for example, tells us something, I think.
Here’s to a healthy heart
Dr John Briffa
for The Cholesterol Truth
Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
1. Shrivastava S, et al. Chronic cholesterol depletion using statin impairs the function and dynamics of human serotonin(1A) receptors. Biochemistry 2010;49(26):5426-35.
2. While A, et al. The effects of statins on mood: A review of the literature. Eur J Cardiovasc Nurs. 2010 Sep 25. [Epub ahead of print]