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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   Bill Harris, M.D. | Q&A

What would you consider a "healthy" cholesterol range?
Q&A with Bill Harris, M.D.

Q. As a routine part of an annual GYN physical, the doctor drew blood to test my cholesterol for the first time in my life. It came back as 125, which he said was "very good." I thought that sounded unusually low, and have heard from some people that one's cholesterol level can get too low. For background information about me, I am a 21 y/o female who has been a vegan for over a year, and a vegetarian before that for a couple of years. In the past year, I've lost 90 lbs through healthy eating and exercise. I'm still about 35 lbs from goal weight (I'm 6'2"), but am losing at a steady pace.

My question is what would you consider a "healthy" cholesterol range?


 



A. Dear Corinne,

150 and below. I agree with your doctor.

All of the sites I find only talk about what is considered too high, but don't talk about the other end of the spectrum. If 125 is too low, what can I do to adjust this? Also, as I continue to lose weight, is it likely that my cholesterol will drop further? I really appreciate your advice.

The references to "hypocholesterolemia" that I have been able to find in ten years have concerned reproductive problems in animals, alleged psychiatric and suicide risks in alcoholics who had lowered their cholesterol levels with drugs, and low cholesterol in certain leukemias, infections, post traumatic syndromes, and wasting diseases. Mention in one human study failed to define the range they were talking about and was not connected to any disease state, only a population study.

One study that I do regard as significant suggests that low cholesterol may be a risk factor in stroke, perhaps reflecting that a certain amount of cholesterol is needed for tissue synthesis in arteriolar walls. However, humans synthesize this vital component of all animal cells and sterol hormones in the amount of ~ 500 mg/day so in short, I don't think there are adverse effects from low serum cholesterol. I have known at least two healthy women with cholesterol levels in the 90s.

In the past 30 years my own cholesterol has ranged from 124-158 without any adverse symptoms. I have known several healthy athletic women with cholesterol levels in the 90s. I generally don't regard low cholesterol as a risk factor for anything, with the possible exception of stroke. I doubt that there is any such thing as dietary hypocholesterolemia and if there is, doubt that you have reached it.

As for dropping lower, it's possible but it could also go back up as you mobilize fat stores and release cholesterol from your cell membranes.

Sincerely,

-William Harris, M.D.


William Harris MD received a degree in physics from the University of California Berkeley, where he earned Phi Beta Kappa honors. He received his degree in medicine from the University of California at San Francisco, and received his postgraduate training at San Diego County Hospital. He holds a Medical License in the State of Hawaii. He has been an Emergency Department physican since 1963, and the Director of the Kaiser Permanente Vegan Lifestyle Clinic on Oahu until his retirement in 1998. Dr. Harris is the author of The Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism.

In addition, he was the 1950 Big Ten Trampoline Champion, is an accomplished hangglider and commercial pilot, and at age 70 became a skydiver with 108 jumps to date. Dr. Harris has been vegetarian since 1950, and vegan since 1963.

 
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