Naturally Low Cholesterol Promotes Long Life
Men With Low Cholesterol Levels May Lead Longer, Healthier Lives
Aug. 31, 2004 -- Middle-aged men who are naturally blessed with low total cholesterol levels or those who achieve them through a healthy diet and exercise may reap the benefits for decades to come.
A new Finnish study suggests that men who have low cholesterol in midlife are more likely to live longer and enjoy better overall health in the long run. Researchers found that a total cholesterol level of 193 or lower at age 30 to 45 was associated with a 25% lower risk of death nearly four decades later.
"The lower your cholesterol in midlife, the better off you are in old age, and the higher the probability that you will even reach old age," says researcher Timo E. Strandberg, MD, PhD, of the University of Helsinki in Finland, in a news release.
The results appear in the Sept. 1 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Researchers say that until now there has been little information on the long-term health benefits of having a naturally low cholesterol level, and some studies have suggested that very low cholesterol levels may have a negative on mental performance and psychological well-being.
These results offer new proof that maintaining naturally low cholesterol levels can provide lasting health benefits without sacrificing mental performance, but researchers say these findings may not apply to women, other social or ethnic groups, and people who have used cholesterol-lowering drugs to achieve low cholesterol levels.
Low Cholesterol Linked to Long Life
In the study, researchers looked at the impact of cholesterol levels in early midlife on the risk death and quality of life in more than 3,000 healthy Finnish men (mostly business executives) who were followed for 39 years.
The men had their cholesterol levels checked in the 1960s and 1970s and again in 2000.
Researchers found that men who had cholesterol levels under 193 were 25% less likely to have died during the follow-up period and scored significantly better on tests of overall physical health than others.
Men with low cholesterol also reported less heart disease and stroke than others, but rates of diabetes, cancer, and mental illness were similar across all groups.
Results May Not Apply to All
Strandberg says the long follow-up in this study should ease concerns about low cholesterol being associated with health risks, but this study did not include participants with extremely low cholesterol. The health benefits found in this study may also not apply to people who use cholesterol-lowering drugs.
"Our results are part of the picture which shows that keeping cholesterol in check is in general good for your arteries and body. Using drugs to lower cholesterol should, however, always be based on total cardiovascular risk," says Strandberg.
In an editorial that accompanies the study, Michael H. Criqui, MD, MPH, and Beatrice. A. Golomb, MD, PhD, of the University of California at San Diego, write that the findings confirm that low cholesterol in midlife is associated with longer life. But they also caution against applying these findings too broadly.
"We think it's unwarranted for persons without cardiovascular disease to take this data and say, 'Well, if low cholesterol in mid-life is really important, I'm going to lower my cholesterol as low as it can go using a powerful drug," says Criqui in a news release. "Some people agree with this idea, but we are more conservative. There hasn't been long enough experience with drug therapy in lower-risk persons to know if benefits clearly outweigh risks in the long term."