Weak immune system
Having a low cholesterol level makes you more susceptible to infections, especially post operative infections. Hospitalized patients with low cholesterol are more likely to die than patients who have normal or high cholesterol levels. The lipoproteins that carry cholesterol around our bloodstream help to protect us against the harmful effects of bacterial endotoxins, which are released whenever we have a bacterial infection. Since cholesterol is a fat, it helps to carry the antioxidant, fat soluble vitamins E and A around our body.
People with high cholesterol have stronger immune systems than people with low cholesterol; they have greater numbers of various immune cells. Clearly you need some cholesterol in your body to help keep your immune system strong.
The sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA, as well as the adrenal hormones aldosterone and Cortisol are all referred to as steroid hormones. All of these hormones are made in the body from cholesterol. If you did not have cholesterol in your body, you would not be able to make any of these hormones.
The diagram below describes how cholesterol is converted into the various steroid hormones.
The parent molecule from which all steroid hormones are manufactured is called pregnenalone. This is an important hormone, as it helps to prevent inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, eczema, fibromyalgia and auto-immune conditions. Cortisol is an anti-inflammatory hormone produced by the adrenal glands, and it is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrate and protein. Aldosterone is another adrenal hormone that controls water and sodium balance in the kidneys.
Many people who take cholesterol lowering medication experience a reduction in their libido; this makes sense as their body is less able to produce sex hormones. Low levels of sex hormones may also contribute to erectile dysfunction and aggravate the symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as aching, tender muscles.
Shorter life span
People with low cholesterol die earlier than those with normal to high levels, and they seem to have higher rates of cancer. A study titled “Low serum total cholesterol is associated with marked increase in mortality in advanced heart failure” was published in the Journal of Cardiac Failure. 1 134 patients were studied, and low cholesterol was associated with worse outcomes and impaired survival in patients with heart failure. People with higher cholesterol had better survival rates. In this study, the researchers observed that high cholesterol in these patients was not associated with high blood pressure, diabetes or coronary heart disease.
A study of 4 521 Italian men and women between the ages of 65 and 84 was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study found that people with a total cholesterol level below 4.8mmol/L are at higher risk of dying, even when many other factors are taken into account. Low cholesterol levels seem to be associated with poor health, or declining health.
Greater risk of cancer
It has long been noted that people with low levels of cholesterol are more likely to develop cancer than people with normal or high levels. This pattern occurs among all age groups. Austrian researchers followed more than 149, 000 women and men (aged 20-95 years) for 15 years as part of the European Health Monitoring and Promotion Programme. Low cholesterol was found to be a significant risk factor for all-cause mortality in men across the entire age group, and in women, especially from the age of 50 onwards. People with low cholesterol suffered significantly more death from cancer, liver diseases and mental disorders.
How Low Should You Go?
You should aim for a cholesterol level of 4.7mmol/L to 5.5mmol/L. Levels below 4.6mmol/L can be unhealthy. The all-cause death rate is higher in individuals with cholesterol levels lower than 4.6mmol/L