It is well known that high cholesterol increases risk of coronary artery disease, heart disease and stroke, but very low cholesterol levels can also lead to health problems, says Mayo Clinic. Health issues related to low cholesterol usually involve the brain, liver and digestive system, according to About.com.
While lower cholesterol is generally better, low levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”cholesterol), can in rare cases increase the risk of cancer, depression and anxiety, notes Mayo Clinic. Studies cited by WebMD also suggest a link between low cholesterol, violence and suicide. According to About.com, very low cholesterol also increases risk of hemorrhagic stroke, which happens when a blood vessel ruptures and causes bleeding in the brain. In pregnant women, low cholesterol can lead to preterm birth and low birth weight, states Mayo Clinic. Researchers are still trying to determine more about the connection between low cholesterol and health risks.
In cases of anxiety and depression, abnormally low cholesterol may inhibit the action of serotonin, the “feel good” chemical associated with mood that transports messages between brain cells, states About.com. In the case of other conditions, low cholesterol is a symptom rather than a cause. For example, when the liver is compromised due to cancer or alcoholism, cholesterol levels can drop. Malnutrition and serious gastrointestinal diseases can also cause low cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is essential for the body to function. It is present in every cell and necessary for digestion and the production of sex hormones. For adults, normal cholesterol levels are between 140 and 200 milligrams per deciliter, as stated by About.com. Total cholesterol levels below 140 milligrams per deciliter are considered abnormally low, but many people with levels in this range have no health issues.