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You've heard for decades about the dangers of high cholesterol, but did you know that LOW cholesterol can lead to violence towards self and other, and has been linked to premature aging, death and other adverse health effects?
In a world gone mad with anti-cholesterol anxiety, and where gobbling down pharmaceuticals designed to poison the body into no longer synthesizing it is somehow considered sane behavior, it is refreshing to look at some of the research on the health benefits of cholesterol, or conversely, the dangers of low cholesterol.
Benefits of Cholesterol
- Cholesterol Is Needed To Prevent Aggression: It has been known for almost 30 years that low serum cholesterol levels are associated with habitually violent tendencies of homicidal offenders under the influence of alcohol.[i] Since then, there are at least 8 other studies that have either confirmed or explored the cholesterol-violence link, including both violence towards self and other. One of the possible explanations for this association was discussed in an article published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 1993: "One of the functions of serotonin in the central nervous system is the suppression of harmful behaviour impulses...Low membrane cholesterol decreases the number of serotonin receptors. Since membrane cholesterol exchanges freely with cholesterol in the surrounding medium, a lowered serum cholesterol concentration may contribute to a decrease in brain serotonin, with poorer suppression of aggressive behaviour".[ii] Not surprisingly, several reports have now surfaced on cholesterol-lowering statin drugs contributing to irritability and/or aggression.
- Cholesterol Is Needed To Fight Cancer: The inverse relationship between cholesterol levels and the risk for a variety of cancers, and mortality associated with cancer, has been known about since the late 80's.[iii] Since then, the cholesterol-cancer connection has been confirmed over and over again. It is to be expected, therefore, that statin drug use would be linked with increased cancer incidence, which indeed it is.[iv] Even when you take so-called "bad" LDL-cholesterol and administer it to a culture of highly malignant, multi-drug resistant leukemia cells, the cells lose their resistance to chemotherapy. Not exactly what can be characterized as a "bad" substance, now is it? [v]
- Cholesterol Is Needed To Prevent Hemorrhagic Stroke: There are two types of stroke: 1) Ischemic, associated with lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain 2) Hemorrhagic, associated with the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain, and bleeding. The risk for the former, in theory, could be raised in the presence of excessive oxidized cholesterol. However, it is the risk for the second, hemorrhagic stroke, which is increased when cholesterol levels are low. Noted as far back as 1994 in the British Medical Journal, in an article titled, "Assessing possible hazards of reducing serum cholesterol," researchers found "The only cause of death attributable to low serum cholesterol concentration was haemorrhagic stroke."[vi] Other studies can be viewed that confirm this association on our stroke-cholesterol link page.
- Cholesterol Is Needed for Memory: Low HDL cholesterol has been identified as a risk factor for deficit and decline in memory in midlife.[vii] Even in Parkinson's disease, higher total serum cholesterol concentrations are associated with slower clinical progression of the disease.[viii] Statin drugs, which inhibit the production of cholesterol, hence severely affecting the brain, are now required by the FDA to display the black box warning that they may adversely affect the memory.[ix] We have indexed over 50 studies from the National Library of Medicine's bibliographic database, Medline, on the neurotoxicity of statin drugs, with six of these specifically addressing statin-induced memory impairment.
- Cholesterol is Needed for Longevity: In a fascinating study published in PLoS in 2011, telomere length - the shoestring cap-like ends of the chromosomes which prevent DNA damage associated with cellular aging - was linked to higher LDL and total cholesterol levels. The longer the length of these protective caps, the higher the cholesterol.[x] Indeed, several studies indicate that lower cholesterol is associated with increased mortality.
- Cholesterol Helps Us Fight Infection: It has been observed that a cholesterol-rich diet improves patients with tuberculosis, leading researchers to suggest "cholesterol should be used as a complementary measure in antitubercular treatment."[xi] Cholesterol-lowering drugs, incidentally, exhibit immunosuppressive and potent immunotoxic properties, likely in part due to their cholesterol depleting effects.
Given that cholesterol is essential for all animal life and that each cell is capable of synthesizing it from simpler molecules, we should not be surprised by examples provided above of cholesterol's significant health benefits. Nor should it be surprising that cholesterol-lowering drugs have over 300 adverse health effects. For now, suffice it to say, that conventional medical practice would do well to receive instruction from basic principles of biology, rather than simply the drug-company marketing copy it increasingly falls prey to.
[i] M Virkkunen. Serum cholesterol levels in homicidal offenders. A low cholesterol level is connected with a habitually violent tendency under the influence of alcohol. Neuropsychobiology. 1983 ;10(2-3):65-9. PMID: 6674827
[v] Yu Shu, Hu Liu. Reversal of P-glycoprotein-mediated multidrug resistance by cholesterol derived from low density lipoprotein in a vinblastine-resistant human lymphoblastic leukemia cell line. Biochem Cell Biol. 2007 Oct;85(5):638-46. PMID: 17901905
[vii] Archana Singh-Manoux, David Gimeno, Mika Kivimaki, Eric Brunner, Michael G Marmot. Low HDL cholesterol is a risk factor for deficit and decline in memory in midlife: the Whitehall II study. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2008 Aug;28(8):1556-62. Epub 2008 Jun 30. PMID: 18591462
[viii] Xuemei Huang, Peggy Auinger, Shirley Eberly, David Oakes, Michael Schwarzschild, Alberto Ascherio, Richard Mailman, Honglei Chen, . Serum Cholesterol and the Progression of Parkinson's Disease: Results from DATATOP. PLoS One. 2011 ;6(8):e22854. Epub 2011 Aug 11. PMID: 21853051
[x] Paul G Shiels, Liane M McGlynn, Alan Macintyre, Paul C D Johnson, G David Batty, Harry Burns, Jonathan Cavanagh, Kevin A Deans, Ian Ford, Alex McConnachie, Agnes McGinty, Jennifer S McLean, Keith Millar, Naveed Sattar, Carol Tannahill, Yoga N Velupillai, Chris J Packard. Accelerated Telomere Attrition Is Associated with Relative Household Income, Diet and Inflammation in the pSoBid Cohort. PLoS One. 2011 ;6(7):e22521. Epub 2011 Jul 27. PMID: 21818333