When is Cholesterol Good for You

Cholesterol. Dangerous to our health? Yes and no. The story of cholesterol is complex. It is essential for our health. Too much can be a signifier of cardiovascular disease. But too little cholesterol also poses potential health risks.

The video tells about research conducted at Texas A&M University that showed low cholesterol could actually reduce muscle gain from exercise. A team of researchers studied 55 men and women, ages 60-69, who were healthy non-smokers and able to perform exercise testing and training. Three days a week for 12 weeks, participants performed several exercises, including stretching, stationary bike riding, and vigorous weight lifting. Additionally, all participants consumed similar meals.

The study found a significant association of dietary cholesterol intake and change in strength. Those with higher cholesterol intake also had the highest muscle strength gain. Researchers believe one explanation may lie in cholesterol's role in the inflammatory process.

After exercise, muscles become sore because the body is rebuilding strained muscle cells and increasing muscle mass. Cholesterol may help in the inflammatory response beneficial for building muscles. Researchers also report that subjects taking cholesterol lowering medication showed lower muscle mass totals than those who were not.

Lead researcher, Steven Riechman, was caught completely off guard by these findings. He states, "From here, we need to look at a number of questions, such as what exactly happens to cholesterol while you exercise? What role does protein play in all of this?"

There has also been other studies that examine the risk associated with low cholesterol.

The American Heart Association Task Force on Cholesterol Issues published a groundbreaking report on the dangers associated with low cholesterol. The report found links between total cholesterol levels of less than 160 mg/dL and an increase in deaths from trauma, some types of cancer, hemorrhagic stroke, and respiratory and infectious diseases.

A research team at Duke University also examined the issue reporting that low cholesterol in men and women were linked to signs of increased depression and anxiety. Other studies in Europe confirmed these results correlating symptoms of sever depression in men with low cholesterol levels.

In 2000 the “Journal of Psychiatric Research” published a report that demonstrated links between men with low cholesterol and increased risk from unnatural causes – including death from suicides, drug overdoses, and accidents and injuries than those without those markers.

As with all such research finders, discovering the actual cause and effect can be elusive. Does the low cholesterol affect mood and emotions and the function of the brain? Or does a person’s state of mind make then susceptible to the physiological response that lowers cholesterol? Or do lifestyle issues drugs, smoking, high-risk behaviors lower cholesterol?

Now several studies have been released showing that lower cholesterol may be associated with reduced cognitive function.

Yeon-Kyun Shin is  a biophysics professor in the department of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology at the University of Iowa. He lead a study that demonstrates that drugs that inhibit the liver from making cholesterol may also keep the brain from making cholesterol, which is vital to efficient brain function.

"If you deprive cholesterol from the brain, then you directly affect the machinery that triggers the release of neurotransmitters," said Shin. "Neurotransmitters affect the data-processing and memory functions. In other words -- how smart you are and how well you remember things."

Shin's findings were published in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

Also the famous Framingham Heart Study found that those who had the lowest total cholesterol performed significantly more poorly on tests of similarities, word fluency, and attention/concentration than patients with higher cholesterol levels.

One clue may be the relationship between the brain and cholesterol. The brain is 2% of the mass of the body but it uses 25% of the cholesterol. The billions of neurons in the brain are covered in sheaths made up in part from cholesterol. The ability of the body and brain to manufacture enough cholesterol may have an impact on the ability of neurotransmitters to work properly and for support cognitive function. 


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