There may be something to diets like 96-year-old Betty White’s preference for hotdogs and French fries. In what seems like a finding contrary to what we know about heart health and dementia, a new study suggests that high cholesterol is related to better brain health in older people.
The study, conducted by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, found that people from ages 85 to 94 who were in good brain health whose cholesterol was above normal had a 32 percent lower risk of mental decline over the next ten years when compared to people ten years younger, who had a 50 percent increase in risk.
But before you pick up the fried food, the finding is not as clear-cut as it first seems. Doctors still don’t think high cholesterol is good for brain health—they just think seniors who make it to 85 with high cholesterol and good brain health have protective factors that guard against the typical effects of having bad cholesterol.
“We don’t think high cholesterol is good for cognition at 85, but its presence might help us identify those who are less affected by it,” said study author Jeremy Silverman, PhD, professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “We hope to identify genes or other protective factors for cognitive decline by focusing on cognitively healthy very old people who are more likely to carry protective factors.”
The study did not find a cause-and-effect relationship, and Silverman warns that it doesn’t mean adults over 85 should increase their cholesterol to ward off dementia—quite the contrary.
Overall, the study found that high cholesterol was associated with mental decline—the one exception being those over 85 with good cognitive function. Silverman said results like this show that people who live a long time with good cognition should be studied more closely.
“Long-lived individuals who are cognitively intact despite high risk should be targeted in research studies seeking protective factors, which could help identify future drugs and therapies to treat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” said Silverman.
This study was published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.