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Cholesterol bad for brain too, UCSF study says

Higher cholesterol levels are not only bad for the heart and blood vessels, they increase the risk of cognitive impairment, the precursor to Alzheimers disease, according to a study of elderly women by UCSF researchers.

Also, women who used cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins scored higher on tests of basic cognitive skills, such as memory, attention, and language, according to lead author Kristine Yaffe, MD, UCSF assistant professor of psychology, neurology and epidemiology, and chief of geriatric psychiatry at San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The higher cholesterol these women had, the worse they did on cognitive testing. And using statins, which reduce cholesterol, seemed to be beneficial to their performance on these tests, Yaffe said. Declining scores on cognitive tests are a symptom of early stage Alzheimers disease, she said.

These results fit with other studies showing that statins may help to prevent Alzheimers disease, Yaffe added. Although statins have not been proven to help the brain in a clinical trial, she explained, studies that have looked back at patients who took statins suggest they can reduce risk of Alzheimers. The current study is published in the latest issue of Archives of Neurology.

To look at cholesterols effects on the brain, Yaffe and her colleagues analyzed data retrospectively on 1037 women who had participated in the HERS clinical trial of hormone replacement therapy, because the trial had collected data on both cholesterol levels over time and tests of cognitive function. The women completed tasks that measured their abilities in memory, attention, language, orientation, and visual-spatial skills.

Women with the highest LDL-cholesterol levels, and those with the highest total cholesterol levels, had significantly poorer test scores, even after statistically correcting for differences such as age, education, and their use of hormone replacement therapy. Also, wo
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Contact: Kevin Boyd
kboyd@pubaff.ucsf.edu
415-476-8429
University of California - San Francisco
14-Mar-2002


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