High cholesterol and memory loss

Memory loss is a common complaint among people as they age. Roughly one in 10 older Americans are mentally impaired, with symptoms ranging from mild memory problems to severe dementia. Many people want to know — is there a way to keep my mind sharp and healthy?

Scientists now believe that lowering your cholesterol may be part of the answer, at least for women. While cholesterol has long been associated with heart disease, researchers in California have found that women who have gone through menopause and have high cholesterol levels may be more likely to suffer from dementia and mental sluggishness than those with normal cholesterol levels.

Researchers measured levels of total cholesterol, HDL ("good") cholesterol, LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and triglycerides (fatty substances in the blood) in 1,037 older women and again 4 years later. At the end of the study, the women completed a questionnaire that measured their ability to concentrate, remember, and reason.

Surprising results

The researchers found that women with higher total and LDL cholesterol scored lower on the memory test than those with normal cholesterol levels. In fact, women with the highest levels of total and LDL cholesterol were nearly twice as likely to have memory loss as those with lower cholesterol levels.

Additionally, women whose LDL and total cholesterol declined or remained the same throughout the 4-year study period were half as likely to suffer from mental problems than those whose levels increased over the same time period.

The researchers found no association between HDL or triglyceride levels and brain function in the study participants.

Fat-free thinking?

"These findings suggest that lowering total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol may be a potential strategy for preventing the development of cognitive impairment or dementia," the researchers conclude.

While more studies need to be completed to determine just how cholesterol affects the brain, the benefits of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet on heart health have already been shown time and time again.


Yaffe K, Connor-Barrett E, Lin F, Grady D. Serum lipoprotein levels, statin use, and cognitive function in older women. Archives of Neurology, 2002;59(3):378-384.


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Review Date: 10/31/2006

Reviewed By: Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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