Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Men's Health

Font Size

Can Your Cholesterol Be Too Low?

Unlike a lot of men, the writer never worried about cholesterol -- until some surprising studies linked low cholesterol to violent behavior.

The Serotonin Connection

No one knows for sure whether low cholesterol levels are the cause of these psychological problems -- or just an innocent bystander. It's always possible, for instance, that people who are depressed or violent eat less than psychologically healthy people, which could lower their total cholesterol level.

But one leading researcher, Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, an internist who specializes epidemiology, is convinced there is a direct link. I reached her at the University of California, San Diego, where she had reviewed all the existing studies on low cholesterol and violence for an article in the March 15, 1998 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The link, Golomb told me, may be the brain chemical serotonin. "We know that monkeys placed on low-fat or low-cholesterol diets show significantly lower serotonin activity in their brains. What's more, studies show that animals with low serotonin activity are more likely to be aggressive."

No one has looked to see whether low-fat or low-cholesterol diets decrease serotonin in humans. Golomb says there are good data from human studies linking low serotonin to both aggressive and violent behavior, including suicide. The connections between low serotonin, depression, and these behaviors are not yet understood. Antidepressant drugs like Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are believed to work by increasing the effective concentration of serotonin in the brain.

Cheeseburger and Fries

When I told Golomb that I had a personal interest in the subject, given my own low cholesterol, she immediately asked me my level. "Around 120," I said.

"Hmmm," she murmured.

Uh-oh, I thought.

Luckily, she reassured me. Having low cholesterol doesn't necessarily mean I'm about to "go postal," or do myself in, she said -- though numbers as low as mine are associated with an increased risk. The association is not so strong statistically that anyone plans to use low cholesterol levels as a single way to screen people for the dangers of becoming depressed or violent.

Instead, Golomb and her colleagues eventually hope to identify other factors -- a history of impulsive behavior, for instance, or an alcohol problem -- that, together with low cholesterol, might be a tip-off for trouble. Understanding these additional factors might change treatment decisions for some people who take medications to lower their cholesterol levels.

That makes sense, yet I was still concerned. Should I try to increase my cholesterol, I ask her -- say, by helping myself to a cheeseburger and fries?

Nice try, she answers, with a laugh. Given the connection between cholesterol and heart disease, no medical professional would recommend such a thing. "Still, as long as your total cholesterol is low and your HDL, or "good" cholesterol, is high, a cheeseburger now and then won't hurt you."

If I do find myself feeling depressed or unusually short-tempered, she says, the more reasonable solution would be to consider some counseling, or perhaps to take an antidepressant medication.

Today on WebMD

Life Cycle of a Penis
Slideshow
Preacher Curl
Slideshow
 
testosterone molecule
Article
Xray of foot highlighting gout
Slideshow
 
Food Men 10 Foods Boost Male Health
Slideshow
Thoughtful man sitting on bed
Quiz
 
Man taking blood pressure
Slideshow
doctor holding syringe
Slideshow
 
Condom Quiz
Quiz
thumbnail_angry_couple_in_bed
Slideshow
 
man running
Quiz
older couple in bed
Video