Think cholesterol, and you probably think heart disease. But without this fat-like substance, you wouldn’t be able to think about anything much at all. It is one of the most important substances in the brain. Don’t lose it.
The brain has the highest concentration of cholesterol in the body, with 25% of the body’s total store. Because it is so crucial, the brain makes its own supply.
With all that in mind, it stands to reason that without enough of this essential brain nutrient, you could run into trouble. That trouble may take the form of memory problems and depression, and other issues relating to mental health.
There is a well established link between cholesterol and brain function. In a study of 789 men and 1105 women, which examined the relationship between total cholesterol (TC) and cognitive performance, it was found that:
- “Lower naturally occurring TC levels are associated with poorer performance on cognitive measures, which place high demands on abstract reasoning, attention/concentration, word fluency, and executive functioning.”
(C)holesterol has four main functions, as outlined below.
1. Antioxidant. The brain is 60% fat, making it vulnerable to damage from chemicals called free radicals. Cholesterol plays a protective antioxidant role in the brain, disabling free radicals before they can do any harm.
2. Insulation. The highest concentration of cholesterol is found in the myelin sheath, the insulating layer that wraps around and protects each nerve cell.
3. Barrier. Cholesterol forms part of the cell membrane, controlling what substances can pass in and out of the cell, and giving the cell structure.
4. Firing of neurotransmitters. Cholesterol ensures that neurotransmitters fire properly between nerve cell synapses.
Cholesterol really is quite the multi-tasker, when it comes to cognitive function. So it is hardly surprising that deficiency can have numerous effects. Deficiency is associated with various brain conditions, including dementia, depression, Parkinson’s and autism.