Epidemiology of low cholesterol levels in older adults: The Cardiovascular Health Study

T. A. Manolio, W. H. Ettinger, R. P. Tracy, L. H. Kuller, N. O. Borhani, J. C. Lynch, L. P. Fried

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Background. Low cholesterol levels have been associated with increased mortality from stroke, cancer, and other noncardiovascular diseases, but the reasons for this association remain unclear. One explanation is that persons with low cholesterol levels have early or occult disease that eventually leads to their deaths. Methods and Results. This possibility was explored in 2,091 men and 2,714 women 65-100 years old in the Cardiovascular Health Study, a multicenter observational study of risk factors for heart disease and stroke in older adults. Cholesterol levels ≤160 mg/dL were present in 11.6% of men and 3.7% of women and increased in prevalence with age. After adjustment for age, total cholesterol levels in this range were associated with a twofold increased prevalence of treated diabetes in men and women and with a twofold increased prevalence of cancer diagnosed in the preceding 5 years in women only. Low cholesterol was also associated with lower levels of hemoglobin, albumin, and factor VII, suggesting a link with hepatic synthetic function. On multivariate analysis, factors most strongly associated with low cholesterol levels in men and women were decreased factor VII levels, decreased albumin, and diabetes. Conclusions. Cross-sectional associations with low cholesterol levels differ by sex and suggest poorer health by some measures. The observed relations with treated diabetes and impaired hepatic synthetic function should be examined for risk of mortality in longitudinal data from this and other observational studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)728-737
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1993


  • aging
  • epidemiology
  • population-based study
  • risk factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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