Cholesterol and cognitive decline
As a group the elderly are keenly health conscious. Probably as a percentage of their population more elderly try to eat right and take care of themselves than any other group. And with good reason since the Grim Reaper is lurking right around the corner waiting to harvest them at the earliest opportunity. Senior citizens have seen their friends and relatives succumb to disease and realize more than most how precarious life really is.
But the elderly have a problem. Most of them get their health information from the mainstream press. And as regular readers of this blog know, the mainstream press is more often wrong than right. (See Gina Kolata’s review of Gary Taubes’ book in last Sunday’s New York Times and you’ll see what I mean.)
Based on what they read in the press, most people of retirement age or beyond are busy cutting the fat and cholesterol from their diets, obsessing on their cholesterol levels, avoiding saturated fat like death, and loading up on plenty of complex carbs. If these folks have a cholesterol reading that’s a little above ‘normal,’ their doctors usually start them on statin drugs. And these patients take them religiously.
Problem is as I reported earlier, the statin drugs have never been shown to be effective in preventing illness in people over 65. In fact, the opposite has been shown – elderly people taking statins are more likely to die from cancer. But their doctors don’t know that because they have been sold a bill of goods by the pharmaceutical industry working feverishly to tap the elderly as a source of revenue for statins.
The majority of the medical data out there shows that a higher cholesterol is correlated with better health and longevity among the retirement set, but few of them know it. And fewer yet know that a lower cholesterol level is associated with cognitive decline.
If there is one thing that elderly people fear more than heart disease and cancer it is probably Alzheimer’s disease or any kind of mental decline. Unfortunately, their fixation on their cholesterol levels are herding more and more of them in that very direction.
The brain represents about 2 percent of a person’s overall weight yet contains about 25 percent of the cholesterol in that person’s body. Just those figures alone ought to tell you that cholesterol is pretty important in cognitive function, but most people aren’t aware of those figures. And won’t learn them from the mainstream press (which get’s its info from the pharmaceutically-driven medical press), but will continue mistakenly to think of cholesterol only in terms of heart disease risk.
A group of researchers in the Netherlands did a study looking at cholesterol levels and cognitive decline and found that the elderly with the highest cholesterol levels were able to think better than their counterparts with low levels of cholesterol. Their paper has been accepted by the journal Neurobiology of Aging, and is awaiting publication.
The researchers divided a group of 1181 elderly people (ave age 75) into groups of high cholesterol, medium cholesterol and low cholesterol levels. They administered reliable tests designed to determine general cognitive function, memory and information processing speed. Across the board subjects with the highest cholesterol levels performed the best, followed by those with medium cholesterol levels. The group with the lowest cholesterol levels performed the worst.
The scientists followed these groups of people for about six years and found that all groups followed about the same trajectory of mental decline, but the group with the highest cholesterol levels ended up with better function than the other two groups simply because they started from a better position at the beginning.
The research team also studied members of the group of subjects who were carriers of a certain genetic marker that is associated with greater rates of Alzheimer’s disease. The folks in this group that had the lowest cholesterol levels had a more precipitous decline in mental function over the six years than did those who had the same genetic marker but were in the high cholesterol group.
This is not the only study that has shown the cholesterol is protective against cognitive decline – it’s only the most recent. And I doubt that you will read much about it in the mainstream press. I doubt that it will be picked up by every newspaper and TV news station as was the idiotic ‘study’ that was totally misreported on red meat and colon cancer that I posted about earlier.
It’s truly unfortunate that our parents and grandparents who are so desperately trying to maintain their health are so wrapped up in trying to rid themselves of the very molecule – cholesterol – that will do the most to keep them from falling prey to the cognitive decline they dread so much.
If you want to improve the health of your elderly relatives, the best thing you can do is hide their statins and buy them a steak dinner.