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Can Your Cholesterol be Too Low?

Some studies show that people who live the longest have total blood cholesterol levels between 211 and 250 (1), which is considered too high by many doctors.

Almost everyone agrees that having total blood cholesterol levels above 250 is likely to shorten your life and markedly increases your chances of suffering a heart attack, unless you have a very high HDL (which is good). Other studies also show that people with very low cholesterol are at increased risk for cancer of the stomach, esophagus, liver and colon, but it looks like the incubating cancers cause the low cholesterol, rather than a low cholesterol causing the cancers.

Since long-term infections of any sort can lower cholesterol, it may be that people who have chronic infections have lower cholesterol and the chronic infection shorten their lives, not the lowered cholesterol (2). The safest cholesterol appears to be between 165 and 250. However, doctors no longer predict your chances of suffering a heart attack by how high your total cholesterol is. The current guidelines recommend that everyone should have a blood level of the bad LDL cholesterol below 100. If you live in Canada, divide the American number by 40. That means that Canadians must have their bad LDL cholesterol levels below 2.5. If you have had a heart attack, you should try to get your bad LDL cholesterol below 70 (Canadian value below 1.75).

How to interpret cholesterol numbers

1) YM Song, J Sung, JS Kim. Which cholesterol level is related to the lowest mortality in a population with low mean cholesterol level: A 6.4-year follow-up study of 482,472 Korean men. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2000, Vol 151, Iss 8, pp 739-747. Address: Song YM, Sung Kyun Kwan Univ, Samsung Med Ctr, Dept Family Med, Sch Med, 50 Ilweondong, Seoul 135230, SOUTH KOREA.

2) DR Jacobs, C Iribarren. Invited commentary: Low cholesterol and nonatherosclerotic disease risk: A persistently perplexing question. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2000, Vol 151, Iss 8, pp 748-751 Address Jacobs DR, Univ Minnesota, Div Epidemiol, Minneapolis,MN 55455 USA

Checked 3/11/17

May 28th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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