Cholesterol is a substance that the body needs to function. High or low cholesterol can have adverse effects and is a health risk. Many people recognize that high cholesterol poses health risks, but there is less information and research on the effects of lower levels. Low cholesterol may be due to genetic conditions or other factors. This article discusses cholesterol in more detail, including the dangers of low cholesterol, its causes, diagnosis, and treatment.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that the body needs to be healthy. The liver makes cholesterol, and it is present in some foods. This substance has a series of essential functions in the body, including the synthesis of bile acids, hormones and vitamin D. The main function of cholesterol is to maintain the fluidity and integrity of cell membranes. However, high cholesterol is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, so it is important that people try to keep their cholesterol levels within healthy parameters.
Doctors consider several factors when evaluating a person’s cholesterol profile. These include:
total cholesterol, which is the total amount of cholesterol in the blood
low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which people call “bad” cholesterol
high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which is called “good” cholesterol
triglycerides, which are a type of fat in the blood that the body uses for energy.
Causes of hypocholesterolemia
While hypercholesterolemia is relatively common in the West, hypocholesterolemia is less common. “Hypocholesterolemia” is the medical term for low cholesterol. A person can have low cholesterol due to inherited conditions, but it can have other causes.
Genetic conditions that can cause hypocholesterolemia include:
chylomicron retention disease
These rare diseases are caused by familial mutations in genes involved in the body’s processing of fats. They can cause serious symptoms if doctors don’t diagnose them early in life.
“Hypolipidemia” is another term for low cholesterol. In addition to genetic factors, hypolipidemia may have more common causes, including
chronic infections, such as hepatitis C
certain types of cancer
chronic alcohol consumption
Another cause of hypocholesterolemia can be taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. Also, a person’s HDL cholesterol level may be too low. Doctors tend to look at a person’s complete lipid and cholesterol profile when assessing their risk.
The following factors can cause low HDL levels:
certain medications, including beta-blockers, anabolic steroids, and thiazide diuretics.
Dangers of low cholesterol
Rare genetic diseases, such as abetalipoproteinemia, that cause low cholesterol can have the following effects on the body:
fat malabsorption and excess fat in the stool
growth retardation in infants
severe vitamin E deficiency
degeneration of the retina of the eye
damage to the nerves that detect sensations
balance and speech difficulties
Getting diagnosed and treated by a doctor as soon as possible can prevent death.
Additionally, one animal study suggested that low cholesterol may decrease serotonin and cause aggression. A study conducted on human participants indicates that there may be a link between low cholesterol and aggression and suicide attempts. However, both of these studies have limitations and further research is needed.
Diagnosis of hypocholesterolemia
A doctor can diagnose hypocholesterolemia using a blood test.
The desirable levels of the lipid profile are as follows:
Total cholesterol: about 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
LDL cholesterol: approximately 100 mg/dL
HDL cholesterol: at least 50 mg/dL in women and 40 mg/dL in men
Triglycerides: less than 150 mg/dL
If a person’s HDL level is too low, or if their total or LDL cholesterol levels are below average, the doctor may diagnose cholesterol deficiency.
Doctors may notice signs of rare genetic conditions that cause low cholesterol early in a person’s life. Therefore, they may recommend a genetic test to help diagnose the condition.
Treatment of hypocholesterolemia
According to experts, doctors can treat genetic conditions that cause low cholesterol through dietary changes and supplements. Treatment may include high-dose vitamin E, dietary fats, and other fat-soluble vitamins. If a person’s low cholesterol is due to their medications, the doctor may assess their dosage or recommend another medication.
Rare genetic conditions can alter the way a person metabolizes fat and cause their cholesterol to drop to unhealthy levels. This can lead to side effects, sometimes serious.
Research also indicates that drugs that lower cholesterol can have side effects and pose risks to a person’s general health if levels become extremely low. Low cholesterol can affect various parts of the body, including the nervous system and the eyes. A person may consider asking their doctor for a blood test if they want to know their cholesterol level or if they have symptoms of low cholesterol.