DURHAM, N.C. -- Doctors have long warned Americans about the health hazards of high cholesterol, but a growing body of evidence indicates that very low cholesterol can be dangerous too, according to a researcher at Duke University Medical Center.
In a study of 121 healthy young women, Duke psychologist Edward Suarez found that those with low cholesterol levels -- below 160 mg/dl -- were more likely to score high on measures of depression and anxiety than women with normal or high cholesterol levels. Normal cholesterol levels are considered to fall within the range of 180 mg/dl to 200 mg/dl.
While the women in his study were not being treated for depression or anxiety, their scores on standard personality profiles clearly put them at risk for developing depression and anxiety, Suarez said.
Results of the study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, are published in the May issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
"There is now a compelling body of evidence in both men and women that low cholesterol is a potential predictor for depression and anxiety in certain individuals," said Suarez, referring to his own and other studies showing the same effect in men. "While we certainly don't advocate that women indulge in high-fat foods, our data do suggest that women with naturally low cholesterol could benefit from raising their cholesterol through healthy dietary measures, like consuming more fish or fish oil."
Depression is the most common mental illness in America, affecting more than 17 million people at a cost of $30 billion to $44 billion per year to the nation's health care economy, Suarez said. Defining who is at risk and why could speed diagnosis and improve treatment for what is currently an under-treated disease, he said.
"Someday, screening for depression may encompass a cholesterol test,
especially at significant points in a woman's lifetime when her cho
Contact: Rebecca Levine
Duke University Medical Center