Cholesterol Plays A Critical Role In Brain Function

| February 24, 2012

Cholesterol is a substance that is generally painted as black by the medical and scientific communities, but the fact remains it is a substance that is innate to the body and forms a critical part of, among other things, key hormones, vitamin D and cell membranes. It’s also very concentrated in the brain, where it contributes to essential brain function in particular the functioning of ‘synapses’ – tiny gaps between cells which allow nerves to communicate with each other.

It has been noted that those who take statins (which reduce cholesterol) are at reduced risk of dementia and ‘cognitive decline’ in later life. This evidence appears, at first sight, to contradict the idea that cholesterol has an important and critical role to play in brain function.

However, one problem with this line of evidence is that it is subject to what is known as the ‘healthy user effect’. Basically, what this means is that people who take statins are likely to be inherently healthier than those who do not. Not because they are taking statins, but because they are, say, more health conscious, and do not have a pre-existing medical condition which precludes them from taking statins. Because of the healthy user effect, we can draw no firm conclusions about this sort of evidence.

A recent review published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease [1] makes the point that in clinical studies in which people are treated with statins, no improvements in brain function in later life have been noted. This issue was actually reviewed back in 2009 [2]. In two well-designed studies which involved over 26,000 people, treatment with statins was not found to benefit brain function. The author of the review in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Diseasepoints out that lowering cholesterol levels may actually impair brain functioning, at least in part, because of the role that it plays in the synapses.

There is at least some evidence for this in the form of a study which linked lower cholesterol levels in men with heightened risk of depression [3]. This study cannot be used to conclude that low cholesterol causes depression, but the finding is suspicious nonetheless. In a review of the literature, it was concluded that: “low cholesterol levels in serum are associated and related to different neuropsychiatric disorders. Lowered cholesterol levels seem likely to be linked to higher rates of early death, suicide, aggressive and violent behaviour, personality disorders, and possibly depression, dementia and penal confinement among young males.” [4].

For the sake of our brains, we might perhaps be wary of driving cholesterol levels to ever-lower levels.

Here’s to a healthy heart

Dr John Briffa
Editor
for The Cholesterol Truth



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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


References:

1. Vilet PV. Cholesterol and Late-Life Cognitive Decline. J Alzheimers Dis 2012 Jan 20. [Epub ahead of print]

2. Mc Guinness B, et al. Statins for the prevention of dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Apr 15;(2):CD003160.

3. Ancelin ML, et al. Gender and genotype modulation of the association between lipid levels and depressive symptomatology in community-dwelling elderly (the ESPRIT study). Biol Psychiatry 2010;68(2):125-32

4. Martinez-Carpio PA, et al. Relation between cholesterol levels and neuropsychiatric disorders. Rev Neurol 2009;48(5):261-4

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Category: What Doctors Don't Tell You

Comments (1)

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  1. marywheat says:

    Hi there, Please send me the daily e-health  email. Thanks, Mary

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