Low levels of the good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), is linked with worse memory performance. So here is another example of what is traditionally considered a heart health measurement that also give us important information about our brain health (see here).
The nice thing about the various cholesterol measurements is that many of you will know your measurements so then you can see where you fall when I provide the details below. If you don’t know your measurements I would suggest you find out – for both your heart and brain health.
You have all heard about cholesterol, but in overly simplistic terms it can be broken down to bad cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – see wiki entry.
In a recent study by Singh-Manoux et al., 2008 they studied 3,673 subjects at both age 55 and 61 and measured their total cholesterol, HDL, triglycerides (all were measured after an overnight fast), and short term verbal memory. After controlling for all the various variables (e.g. education) they found that subjects with HDL levels <= 40 mg/dL had worse memory than those with high HDL levels (>= 60 mg/dL). Additionally, those subjects that had a drop of HDL from age 55 to 61 also had a drop in memory ability. The authors giving us these results suggest that having HDL levels between the two extremes (41 – 59 mg/dL) does not produce significant differences it is only at the two far ends of the spectrum that differences are found. But these are not extreme values for I know a triathlete that has HDL level is at 96 mg/dL. Additionally, you must remember that subjects that showed a drop in HDL levels over the 6 years between the tests showed a decline in memory – suggesting small changes of HDL are meaningful.
Now if you are in your twenties you might think that this whole cholesterol thing only concerns ‘older’ people. But I can tell you I have a friend in her twenties that HDL was in the 30s, meaning it would fall into the bad memory group (for the record she has a good memory – but what is going to happen when she gets older?). And I know another friend that while he eats very healthy falls into the low category. Therefore, you can not assume that because of your age, eating and exercise habits, body type that you must have a good high level of HDL. So no matter what your age it would not hurt to know your cholesterol and its various sub components.
But more importantly once you find out your measurements to do something about them. We can choose various lifestyles and/or drugs to change our levels to hopefully improve both our body and brain health.
Very quick list of things to do to increase your HDL levels: quit smoking, lose weight, exercise, mild levels of alcohol, increase consumption of good fats (e.g. fish, olive oil, nuts). However, things are never quite this simple. In a future piece I will give you more details that might shock you a bit – it surprised me.
For now find out your various cholesterol measurements when you can, and with or without this knowledge make appropriate lifestyle choices (which we all already know at various levels) that is know to increase your HDL levels – and improve most other health measurements.