When cholesterol is discussed, we often think about the heart, heart disease, and stroke, but memory and cognitive function don’t generally cross our minds even though they should. New research from Heidelberg University in Germany found that having high cholesterol can negatively affect memory and cognitive decline in aging.
Cholesterol is naturally produced by the body and is also ingested through the food we eat. When cholesterol levels are normal, it actually helps the body function properly, but when cholesterol levels get too high, it becomes a serious threat to overall health.
When “bad” cholesterol—or LDL—is in greater quantities than “good” cholesterol—HDL—plaque can form in our arteries, narrowing them over time and limiting the amount of blood that gets through. Not only does this make the heart work harder, it can ultimately lead to a clogged artery, which can have serious health consequences.
High cholesterol affects memory and cognitive function
The findings from the study suggest that for individuals who carry the ApoE4 genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline may be reduced by lowering cholesterol—even more so if they have cardiovascular disease.
ApoE4 is a protein that plays a role in the metabolizing of blood lipids. It transfers cholesterol to nerve cells, among other functions. There are three different variants of ApoE4 that can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers used blood samples and medical data from two alternative studies of older adults who took cognitive and memory tests. The two studies included the ESTHER study of 1,434 individuals and the KAROLA study of 366 participants. Participants with lower cholesterol performed better on cognitive and memory tests compared to those with higher cholesterol.
The findings suggest that to maintain memory and cognitive function, taking necessary measures to lower cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease is crucial.
Tips to protect your memory
If you want to protect your memory for years to come, start with matters of the heart. Here are some tips to help reduce cholesterol and prevent memory loss.
- Limit processed foods, saturated fat, and trans-fat from your diet
- Consume more fiber
- Limit intake of dietary cholesterol, such as red meat
- Choose more plant-based sources of protein, like beans or nuts
- Lose excess weight
- Don’t smoke or use tobacco
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Exercise regularly and stay fit
- Get good quality sleep
- Manage other health conditions, such as diabetes, sleep apnea, and blood pressure
- Get regular health screenings
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids
- Manage stress appropriately
- Check our iron levels with your doctor
- Enjoy wine in moderation
- Make whole grains and complex carbs a part of your diet
- Do more tasks you are interested in to help keep the brain stimulated
- Make time for friends and socialize
- Identify and treat health problems
By following these tips, not only can you protect your memory, but you can protect your heart as well.