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Tuesday, May 25, 1999 Published at 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK


Low cholesterol linked to depression

Low cholesterol levels may lead to depression

Women with a low cholesterol level could be approximately twice as likely to suffer from depression or anxiety problems, researchers have said.

Researchers from Duke University Medical Center carried out personality trait measurements on 121 young women aged 18 to 27.

They found that 39% of the women with low cholesterol levels scored high on personality traits signalling they were prone to depression, compared to 19% of women with normal or high levels of cholesterol.

In addition, one in three of the women with low cholesterol levels scored high on anxiety indicators, compared to 21% of women with normal levels.

Writing in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, psychologist Dr Edward Suarez, who led the research, said: "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."

Fish oil

[ image: Salmon contains beneficial cholesterol]
Salmon contains beneficial cholesterol
Dr Suarez said research suggested that women with low cholesterol could benefit by raising their level through healthy dietary measures, like consuming more fish or fish oil.

A research team from Harvard University reported earlier this month that eating fatty fish can help to lift depression.

Fatty fish such as salmon and cod contain omega-3 fatty acids which are believed to raise levels of the brain chemical serotonin in a way similar to anti-depressants such as Prozac.

However, Dr Suarez warned against eating foods such as cream cakes and fried food to raise cholesterol levels.

These type of products contain an excess of low density lipoprotein - LDL or bad cholesterol - which causes blockages in the arteries and leads to heart disease.

Only high-density lipoprotein - HDL or "good" cholesterol - produces beneficial effects.

Low cholesterol levels are below 160 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), while normal is considered to fall within the range of 180 mg/dl to 200 mg/dl.

Dr Suarez said low cholesterol levels may lead to depression in women who have just given birth.

In previous studies on men, Dr Suarez had men with high cholesterol rates reduce their levels through medication.

Consequently, the number of suicides and violent deaths increased, which led the researchers to theorise "that low cholesterol levels were causing mood disturbances".

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