High Cholesterol May Affect Memory

High Cholesterol May Affect Memory

Men and women with cardiovascular concerns, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, may not only be at risk for heart disease, but also have an increased risk of developing early cognitive and memory problems, too, according to a new study.

French researchers assessed data on almost 5000 British men and women with an average age of 55.

Three times during a decade, research participants took a number of tests that measured their memory, reasoning skills, fluency and vocabulary. Subjects were also given a Framingham risk score, which combines one’s age, gender, cholesterol levels, smoking history, blood pressure, and diabetes status to predict the chances of having a cardiovascular problem sometime during the next ten years.

Those subjects with poorer cardiovascular health did not do as well on tests of memory and mental ability than were those who had healthy cardiovascular systems, according to the study.

The American Heart Association noted that an increasing body of research is showing the importance of cardiovascular health in maintaining brain function during a person's life.

High cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure and inactivity can contribute to a narrowing of the large blood vessels throughout the body, including the small blood vessels inside the brain.

The reduced blood flow can deprive the brain of essential oxygen flow and lead to a more difficult ability in thinking.

The subjects in the study did not have Alzheimer's, although other research shows that hypertension and high cholesterol levels are risk factors for both Alzheimer's and vascular dementia.

The tests for memory involved having a subject being read 20 short words slowly, at two second intervals per word. After hearing all 20 words, which consisted of only one or two syllables, the participant was given two minutes to write down as many words as he or she could remember.

The testing revealed:
At 55 years old, subjects who had low levels of HDL had a 53% higher risk of memory loss than those with high levels of HDL.
During the five-year interval between phases 5 and 7, study participants who experienced a drop in HDL were at 61% risk of losing their ability to remember the words than participants with high levels of HDL.
Researchers first separated the tests between men and women but there was no noticeable difference between genders so data was combined for the study.
There was no association between memory loss and the level of total cholesterol or triglycerides.

Previous research has shown that higher levels of HDL lower the risk of heart attack, aids numerous biological processes, removes excess cholesterol from the bloodstream, helps nerve cells develop, and controls the production of beta-amyloid.  Alzheimer’s disease patients have a build-up in the brain of protein plaques that contain high levels of beta-amyloid.

The good news is that adults can take steps to improve cardiovascular health, including eating a proper diet, exercising, controlling their cholesterol levels.

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