Lower cholesterol levels have been linked to increased suicidal tendencies, according to new research
Feeling really depressed? It might not just be the winter blues bringing you down. (And, BTW, Just Because You're Depressed In the Winter Doesn't Mean You Have SAD.) Instead, take a look at your diet and make sure you're getting enough fat. Yep, according to a new study published in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, people with lower levels of cholesterol in their blood are more likely to be deeply depressed and even suicidal.
While conducting a meta-analysis of 65 studies and looking at data from over half a million people, researchers discovered a strong correlation between low cholesterol readings and suicidality. Specifically, people with the lowest cholesterol levels had a 112 percent higher risk of suicidal thoughts, a 123 percent higher risk of suicide attempts, and an 85 percent higher risk of actually killing themselves. This was especially true for people under 40 years of age. The people with the highest cholesterol readings, on the other hand, had the lowest risk of suicidal tendencies.
But wait, isn't low cholesterol supposed to be good for you? Haven't we all been told to avoid high cholesterol at all costs?
Recent studies on cholesterol show that the issue is more complicated than we've believed in the past. For starters, many scientists now question whether there's a direct link between high cholesterol and heart disease. Studies going back more than two decades, like this one published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, show it doesn't increase the risk of death. Other studies have shown that some types of cholesterol may even provide health benefits. Because of these studies and other emerging research, the U.S. government decided last year to remove cholesterol as a "nutrient of concern" from its official guidelines.
But just because high cholesterol isn't as bad for you as people once thought doesn't answer the question of why low cholesterol might be a problem. This is why the Psychiatry & Neuroscience study is so important. The stats, while incredibly heartbreaking, can give scientists an important clue as to what causes severe depression and suicidal tendencies.
One theory is that the brain needs fat to function well. The human brain is nearly 60 percent fat, with 25 percent of that made up of cholesterol. Essential fatty acids are therefore necessary to both survival and happiness. But since our bodies can't make them, we have to get them from foods rich in healthy fats, like fish, grass-fed meat, whole dairy, eggs, and nuts. And it seems to work in practice: Getting enough of these foods has been linked to lower rates of depression, anxiety, and mental illness. (It's worth noting, though, that a diet heavy in saturated fats has been shown to cause depression.)
Surprised? Us too. But the takeaway message shouldn't shock you: Eat a wide range of healthy, whole foods to feel your best. And as long as they're not man-made or heavily processed, don't stress about eating plenty of fat. It could actually help you feel better.