One doesn't often hear about the dangers of having a cholesterol level that is too low. But recent research shows that a very low cholesterol level may be unhealthy.
Unfortunately, the dangers of low cholesterol have not been well publicized. Many people still believe that low total cholesterol levels mean that one is not at risk for stroke, heart attack or any other risk factor that comes with cardiovascular disease.
While high cholesterol levels may be a warning sign of many health issues, it does not reasonably follow that all cholesterol is bad. Cholesterol is a naturally occurring type of fat that's essential for good health. It is an integral part of your cell membranes, and it's also the raw material your body uses to make steroid hormones. We need it for optimal brain health and it is vital for neurological function. Cholesterol is used to help us build and maintain cell membranes, to produce sex hormones, to aid in the manufacture of bile and to convert Ultraviolet light from the sun to vitamin D. Cholesterol is also important for the metabolism of fat soluble vitamins,including vitamins A, D, E and K.
There have been many studies over the years connecting low cholesterol levels with cancer and a host of other diseases, including, hyperthyroidism, liver disease, Parkinson's and depression, among others.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, scientists found that men with LDL cholesterol levels between 91 and 135 had six times the likelihood of having Parkinson's disease as those with LDL levels above 135.
A study at the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, found that pregnant women who have very low cholesterol levels have an increased risk of giving birth to low birth weight babies. They think the reason for this is because cholesterol is necessary to maintain the integrity of the vessel wall and that low levels might lead to "leaky vessels."
At the 24th American Heart Association Conference on Stroke and Cerebral Circulation, researchers found that as an individual's cholesterol level rose above 230 mg/dl, their risk of ischemic stroke increased. But the researchers also found that as cholesterol dropped, the risk of stroke increased significantly. A person with a cholesterol level below 180 mg/dl had twice the risk of stroke compared with someone with a level of 230 mg/dl. Another study found that men with cholesterol levels below 150 mg/dl had four times the risk of cerebral hemorrhage compared with men who had cholesterol levels about 190 mg/dl.
Fortunately, there are simple, basic strategies that can help you regulate your cholesterol levels. Any form of aerobic exercise -- running, bicycling, or swimming -- or any other exercise that gets your heart pumping, can help lower heart disease risk. Whatever activity you choose should be done five days a week, for at least 30 minutes a day.
Omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish and fish oil are very effective in controlling the inflammation that can cause heart disease. Reducing your intake of saturated fats and concentrating on consuming mostly mono-unsaturated fats like those found in avocados and olive oil is also helpful. It's also a good idea to eat plant foods high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. A good multivitamin that contains folic acid is beneficial, as well. In a Harvard study involving 80,000 nurses, those with the highest intakes of folic acid were 31 percent less likely to develop heart disease. Folic acid works by decreasing blood levels of homocysteine. A high homocysteine level is an emerging risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Foods that contain folate (the naturally occurring form of folic acid) are kidney beans, broccoli and spinach to name a few. Vitamins B6 and B12 also help in reducing homocysteine levels.