Low blood cholesterol compromises the immune system

Apart from cancer, low cholesterol levels are also associated with other, non-heart related deaths and an increased susceptibility to infectious diseases.

A group at the Center for Clinical Pharmacology, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, found that the immune systems of the men whose cholesterol averaged 150 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L) were significantly less effective than those of men with an average cholesterol of 260 mg/dL (6.8 mmol/L).[1]

This finding was not surprising as several studies have shown that cholesterol is necessary for the proper functioning of blood cells — macrophages and lymphocytes — that form part of our immune systems. For this reason low blood cholesterol adversely affects our bodies' ability to fight infection. This could well be another reason why infectious diseases have recently become more prevalent in our society.

Tuberculosis (TB), a disease thought to have been conquered decades ago, is returning.

Low levels of cholesterol are common in patients suffering from TB. TB patients with low cholesterol also have higher death rates, particularly those cases with small (miliary) nodules.

A hospital for respiratory diseases tested whether giving TB patients high-cholesterol meals would effective in treating their condition.[2] They split patients into two groups. One had meals containing 800 mg of cholesterol per day; the other had 250 mg of cholesterol per day. By the second week, the numbers of TB bacteria in sputum was reduced 80% in the high-cholesterol group; it was only reduced by 9% in the low-cholesterol group.

High-cholesterol diets now form part of the treatment for TB.

Mind you, going to hopsital if you have low cholesterol is itself fraught with danger as hospital patients who have low cholesterol are more likely to contract the ever-increasing numbers of cases of hospital infections.


1. Muldoon MF, Marsland A, Flory JD, et al. Immune system differences in men with hypo- or hypercholesterolemia. Clin Immunol Immunopathol 1997; 84: 145-9.
2. Perez-Guzman C, Vargas, MH, Quinonez, F, et al. A Cholesterol-Rich Diet Accelerates Bacteriologic Sterilization in Pulmonary Tuberculosis. Chest 2005; 127: 643-651.

Part 1: Immunity | Part 2: Hospital Infections

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Last updated: December 9, 2011