Cholesterol is eaten and naturally produced by the liver for a reason – we need a certain amount of it in the body. Most of us know that elevated blood cholesterol levels should be lowered, as they’re a risk factor for heart disease*. But can cholesterol be too low?
Low cholesterol levels explained: “Good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol
Cholesterol is not “bad” in itself, as it’s naturally produced and consumed to protect the cells in the body as a component of cell membranes. It’s also a precursor of essential substances like hormones and bile acids.
However, cholesterol has to be carried through the bloodstream by lipoproteins. There are two important varieties when we talk about heart health: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL):
- LDL-cholesterol can deposit cholesterol on the walls of the arteries. It’s that build up that makes elevated cholesterol a risk factor for heart disease*, and is the reason why LDL-cholesterol is considered “bad” cholesterol.
- HDL-cholesterol , on the other hand, can act in a positive way – carrying cholesterol away from the blood and depositing it in the liver, which breaks the cholesterol down and allows it to be passed out of the body.
So, is low cholesterol bad?
This means that a low level of LDL-cholesterol is actually good news. In fact, there is no NHS-recommended lower limit for it. Around half of all adults in the UK have elevated LDL-cholesterol levels, so it’s important to get tested and take steps to lower yours if needed.
On the other hand, HDL-cholesterol should be above a certain recommended level, so that it can continue to help the body remove excess cholesterol.
What is a low cholesterol level, and what is the recommended level?
Rather than asking ‘What is low cholesterol?’ in order to target a specific level, it’s important to focus instead on a balanced cholesterol ratio, and what the recommended total cholesterol level is for you.
The recommended total cholesterol for healthy adults is 5mmol/L or less (and 4mmol/L or less for those at risk of heart disease). It’s advised that your LDL-cholesterol level should be:
- 3mmol/L or less for healthy adults
- 2mmol/L or less for those at higher risk of heart disease
And HDL-cholesterol should be:
- 1 mmol/L or more
Risk factors depend on your individual age, lifestyle and family history, so it’s always advisable to consult a healthcare professional if you are concerned about elevated or low cholesterol levels.
Lowering cholesterol with Flora ProActiv
If you want to lower your cholesterol levels, foods containing plant sterols (like those in the ProActiv range) can help. Eating between 1.5g and 2.4g of plant sterols each day can reduce LDL-cholesterol by 7-10% in two to three weeks**.
Importantly, plant sterols do not affect the body’s HDL-cholesterol levels, so if you eat them, you won’t be lowering the “good” cholesterol at the same time.
Other tips for a cholesterol-conscious diet and lifestyle
As well as eating plant sterols, there are plenty of other positive steps you can take to change your diet and lifestyle to reduce your LDL cholesterol levels. Check out our handy guide on how to lower cholesterol for tips, or download the free Flora ProActiv starter kit here.
* High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.
**Flora ProActiv contains plant sterols. A daily intake of 1.5 – 2.4g sterols can lower cholesterol by 7 – 10% in 2 – 3 weeks as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle including plenty of fruits and vegetables. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. As coronary heart disease has many risk factors, more than one may need to be improved to reduce overall risk. Individual results may vary.
***Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in the diet has been shown to lower blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.