Low serum cholesterol increases risk of prematurity

November 12, 2007

While clinicians already know that women with hypercholesterolemia are more likely to give birth prematurely, new research suggests that readings at the other end of the spectrum pose a similar threat. When NIH researchers looked at data on 9,938 nondiabetic, nonsmoking mothers aged 21 to 34 who underwent second-trimester screening, they found that 12.7% of women with total cholesterol (TC) levels below 159 mg/dL gave birth prematurely, compared with 5% of those in the moderate range of 159-261 mg/dL. But taking a closer look at the numbers revealed that the significant link between low cholesterol and preterm birth only existed among white patients (21%).

While clinicians already know that women with hypercholesterolemia are more likely to give birth prematurely, new research suggests that readings at the other end of the spectrum pose a similar threat. When NIH researchers looked at data on 9,938 nondiabetic, nonsmoking mothers aged 21 to 34 who underwent second-trimester screening, they found that 12.7% of women with total cholesterol (TC) levels below 159 mg/dL gave birth prematurely, compared with 5% of those in the moderate range of 159-261 mg/dL. But taking a closer look at the numbers revealed that the significant link between low cholesterol and preterm birth only existed among white patients (21%).

Maternal TC is likely transported to blastospheres for the development of embryonic and placental tissues, and for neuroepithelial expansion. TC "is critical for both the placenta and... developing baby, including the brain" said Dr. Muenke, Chief of the NHGRI's Medical Genetics Branch. ...Research is needed to replicate this outcome [before we]... extend it to other groups,... [but] the right amount of cholesterol is fundamental for good health..."

Edison RJ, Berg K, Remaley A, et al. Adverse birth outcome among mothers with low serum cholesterol. Pediatrics. 2007;120:723-733.