In this article, we’ll discuss the causes, risks, and symptoms of having cholesterol levels that are too low. We’ll also discuss how it is diagnosed and treated.
Can Cholesterol Be Too Low?
Most problems with cholesterol come when there is too much of it in the body. Cholesterol is a substance that is found in every cell. The body needs it to make hormones, including vitamin D. Your body can make cholesterol, but it can also come from dietary sources, like egg yolks, meat, and dairy products.
When there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it can stick to the walls of arteries. This is referred to as “plaque formation” and can lead to heart disease because it can lead to deposits that block blood flow. Because your body needs cholesterol, it is also possible to not have enough. High cholesterol is more common, but low cholesterol can also have a significant effect on health.
Understanding cholesterol levels
Normal cholesterol levels should be in the following ranges:
- Total cholesterol: 125-200 mg/dL
- LDL cholesterol: Less than 100 mg/dL
- HDL cholesterol: 40 mg/dL or higher
What Causes Low Cholesterol Levels?
Low cholesterol levels can occur for several reasons. They may be short-term, long-term, or rarely, a lifelong condition from a genetic disorder.
Causes of low cholesterol include:
- Malabsorption (digestive problems when the body cannot absorb nutrients)
- Anemia (low red blood cells or low iron)
- Thyroid conditions
- Liver disease
- Infections, such as hepatitis C
- Illness or injury
- Genetic disorder
Dangers of Low Cholesterol
High cholesterol is considered dangerous because, over time, it can lead to serious risks of heart attack and cardiovascular disease. But cholesterol that is too low, known as hypolipidemia, can also cause health risks.
What research says
The risks of very low cholesterol levels are not as well understood. In some cases, very low HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, or total cholesterol do not have adverse effects. In other cases, they could be associated with anxiety, depression, or a risk of hemorrhagic stroke.
While low cholesterol is less risky than high cholesterol, if your cholesterol levels suddenly start to fall for no specific reason, this could be seen as a cause for concern. Cholesterol levels are often measured routinely as part of general health check-ups. If you see your medical provider for routine care, you would have cholesterol testing that would identify levels that are out of range or suddenly different.
Symptoms of Low Cholesterol
Cholesterol imbalances do not cause noticeable changes to how you feel until they produce a severe health problem. In cases of high cholesterol, there are usually no signs or symptoms that the arteries are becoming blocked until a serious blockage occurs.
With low cholesterol, the signs are not specific. It may cause symptoms associated with anxiety or depression, or could cause none at all.
Some potential signs that low cholesterol is impacting mental health could be:
- Changes to mood
- Sleeping difficulties (or sleeping more than normal)
- Appetite changes
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Nervous feelings
- Confusion or memory problems
- Problems with decision making
- Agitation or irritability
While these are possible symptoms of low cholesterol, these symptoms can be caused by many other things. If you notice mood changes, see your healthcare provider.
Diagnosing Low Cholesterol
The only way that cholesterol can be checked is with a basic blood test. Anything outside of a normal range could be considered low, such as:
- Total cholesterol: Less than 125 mg/dL
- HDL cholesterol: Less than 40 mg/dL
- LDL cholesterol: Less than 60 mg/dL
There are no established guidelines for “low” LDL cholesterol since the primary concern is levels that are too high. Treatment targets for safely managing high cholesterol range between 60-100 mg/dL.
A medical provider will assess your cholesterol results and determine if they appear too low or are potentially contributing to any symptoms you may be experiencing. If you take statins to lower LDL cholesterol, and your cholesterol levels are too low, your dosage will be adjusted.
Treating Low Cholesterol
Most cases of low cholesterol are not caused by statins. If you experience low cholesterol, a healthcare provider will do a medical exam and health history to determine what could be contributing. Low cholesterol is not treated with a high-cholesterol diet.
If your cholesterol levels are inadequate, and malnutrition or malabsorption are involved, dietary changes can help, but they do not necessarily mean eating lots of high-cholesterol foods. Other reasons for low levels of cholesterol, like genetics, illness, or infection, will be treated based on the specific cause and your symptoms.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Can LDL cholesterol be too low? Possible risks of extremely low levels. (2017).
Cholesterol levels: What you need to know. (2020).
Cholesterol levels. (2022).
Cholesterol-lowering medicines. (2022).
Hypolipidemia is associated with the severity of COVID-19. (2020).
Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels in Coronary Artery Disease Patients: Opportunities for Improvement. (2022).
Low LDL cholesterol. (2022).
How low is safe? The frontier of very low ( <30 mg/dL) LDL cholesterol. (2021).
Low serum cholesterol level as a risk factor for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest: a case-control study. (2021).