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Can cholesterol levels be too low?
By Dr. Peter Gott | Columnist
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Published: 12/14/2009 12:07 AM

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Q. I write as a longtime reader and saver of your informative and helpful columns.

You have frequently addressed the problem of high cholesterol and alternatives to taking statin drugs. However, my 59-year-old son has the opposite problem; his readings are too low. His total cholesterol is 130, HDL 35, LDL 44 and triglycerides 98. His doctor has him on Lipitor. He takes no other medications. What other solutions might be of help to raise his HDL and numbers to a normal range? Can low readings be as dangerous a problem as high readings?

A. While there are some concerns with regard to low cholesterol levels, high readings carry greater risks. There are several types of blood fats. High-density lipoproteins and low-density lipoproteins both carry cholesterol.

Triglycerides are created when the body converts extra calories to a storable form for later use. HDL, the "good" cholesterol, works in preventing fat from being deposited on blood-vessel walls by transporting cholesterol to the liver, where it is metabolized and excreted.

A desirable HDL is 60 or higher. LDL, the "bad" cholesterol, carries cholesterol from the liver and intestines throughout the body. LDL readings should be 129 or lower. Triglycerides are a type of fat carried in the blood by very low-density lipoproteins. They are stored in fat tissue. The normal level is 149 or lower. In theory, most cardiologists and primary-care physicians recommend LDL and triglyceride readings be as low as possible, while HDL should be high.

With total cholesterol of 130, I am not sure why your son's physician has him on Lipitor.

Perhaps he has a cardiac condition or has had a stroke. With his readings, I am guessing he might be a vegetarian or is extremely conscientious regarding his food intake.

It is perfectly normal for adults consuming low-fat, low-cholesterol diets to have levels similar to his. He is likely the envy of many.

Now, a minor downside: Studies indicate low cholesterol may reduce serotonin levels, leading to depression and anxiety.

Other studies suggest a low LDL might be associated with an increased risk of specific types of cancer. If your son receives regular checkups and works together with his physician, I am inclined to say he is doing all the right things.

If he has concerns, he should address them with his doctor and get any appropriate testing. To raise his HDL level, he should increase his physical activity and exercise.

Q. I had a problem with constipation. After reading about those yogurt products that are supposed to restore normal bowel movements, I decided to give it a try. They worked well, and I no longer have a problem. I hope this can help your readers.

A. There has been an influx of products containing probiotics that claim to support gastrointestinal health. There are several brands that contain live Bifidobacterium, also known as Bifidus, the primary beneficial bacteria of these products. Whether or not the probiotics or the change in diet is responsible, it will not hurt to try it. Thank you for sharing your successful experience.

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