The team looked at 18 years of data from the long-running Framingham Heart Study and found an association between naturally high levels of blood cholesterol and better mental functioning. The results were recently published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
The research team, led by BU Department of Mathematics and Statistics Research Assistant Professor Penelope Elias (now at University of Maine at Orono) and including Merrill Elias, research professor of epidemiology in BU's Mathematics and Statistics Department, found a link between naturally occurring high cholesterol and modestly better mental function in areas such as visual organization, memory, attention, and concentration. Unlike previous studies, the current research isolated blood cholesterol from other well-known risk factors.
Along with high blood pressure, diabetes, and hypertension, high cholesterol has long been known as a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. However, the results of the new study showed that the higher the natural level of cholesterol, the better participants did on tests of mental ability. High cholesterol was defined as > 240 mg/dL as measured in blood samples.
Less than two percent of the participants were being treated with anti-cholesterol medication. Anti-cholesterol medications and diets as well as risk factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption were controlled for statistically.
Cholesterol is important for brain development in infants and plays a role in how neurons work in adults. High blood cholesterol level is still considered a risk factor for stroke and heart disease, however, and physicians may decide that those risks outweigh any modest benefits for cognitive function. Scientists have not yet determined whether lowering cholesterol with medication will influence mental f
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