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.
Smashing Cars and Other Things continued...
They may also be more likely to hurt someone else. When Mitropoulou and her
colleagues at Mount Sinai recently studied 42 patients with personality
disorders, they found a strong link between lower-than-average cholesterol and
impulsive, aggressive behavior.
What's behind the violent behavior and suicidal tendencies? One answer could
be depression. In findings published in the September 1999 British Journal
of Psychiatry, researchers from Finland's National Public Health Institute
showed that in a group of more than 29,000 Finns studied, low total cholesterol
put men at greater risk of being hospitalized for major depression. A link
between low cholesterol and depression has turned up in at least half a dozen
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
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.