Objective: Several studies have reported an inverse relationship between cholesterol levels and death from violent causes, including suicide. Because depression and depressive symptoms are associated with suicide and trauma, the relation between cholesterol and depressive symptoms is of interest. The objective of the present study was to examine this relationship in a group of healthy women. The second main objective of the study was to investigate the association between cholesterol and other psychosocial factors (social support, vital exhaustion, and stressful life-events), which are known to be related to depression.
Method: The study group consisted of 300 healthy women (aged 31 to 65 years) who were representative of women living in the greater Stockholm area. Depressive symptoms were measured by a nine-item questionnaire derived from Pearlin. For the measurement of social support a modified version of the Interview Schedule for Social Interaction was used. Health behaviors were measured by means of standard questionnaires. Lipids were analyzed by enzymatic and immunoturbidometric methods.
Results: Women with a low serum cholesterol, defined as the lowest tenth of the cholesterol distribution (< or = 4.7 mmol/l), reported significantly more depressive symptoms. In addition, depressive symptoms showed a significant inverse linear association with high-density lipoprotein (HDL). In multivariate models, which adjusted for smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise habits, body-mass index, waist-hip ratio, menopausal status, age, and educational level, these associations remained significant. In addition, when analyzed in relation to other psychosocial factors, low cholesterol was found to be strongly associated with lack of social support. This association was not explained by depressive symptoms.
Conclusions: Low cholesterol levels in middle-aged healthy Swedish women were associated with a higher prevalence of depressive symptoms and with lack of social support. These findings may constitute a possible mechanism for the association found between low cholesterol and increased mortality, particularly suicide.