Assessing the observed relationship between low cholesterol and violence-related mortality. Implications for suicide risk

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1997 Dec 29;836:57-80. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1997.tb52355.x.


Health advocacy groups advise all Americans to restrict their dietary intake of saturated fat and cholesterol as an efficacious and safe way to lower plasma cholesterol concentrations and thus reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and other atherosclerotic disorders. However, accumulating evidence suggests that naturally low or clinically reduced cholesterol is associated with increased nonillness mortality (principally suicide and accidents). Other evidence suggests that such increases in suicide and traumatic death may be mediated by the adverse changes in behavior and mood that sometimes accompany low or reduced cholesterol. These observations provided the rationale for an ongoing series of studies in monkeys designed to explore the hypothesis that alterations in dietary or plasma cholesterol influence behavior and that such effects are potentiated by lipid-induced changes in brain chemistry. In fact, the investigations in monkeys reveal that reductions in plasma cholesterol increase the tendency to engage in impulsive or violent behavior through a mechanism involving central serotonergic activity. It is speculated that the cholesterol-serotonin-behavior association represents a mechanism evolved to increase hunting or competitive foraging behavior in the face of nutritional threats signaled by a decline in total serum cholesterol (TC). The epidemiological and experimental data could be interpreted as having two implications for public health: (1) low-cholesterol may be a marker for risk of suicide or traumatic death and (2) cholesterol lowering may have adverse effects for some individuals under some circumstances.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Cholesterol / physiology*
  • Cholesterol, Dietary / adverse effects
  • Dietary Fats / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Risk Factors
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Suicide*
  • Violence*


  • Cholesterol, Dietary
  • Dietary Fats
  • Serotonin
  • Cholesterol