Cholesterol is the best brain food

By now you know, cholesterol was never really the health boogeyman the medical community made it out to be in the 80s and 90s.

In fact, all those years spent buying low-fat foods probably didn’t help your heart health one iota, because research shows that cholesterol and heart disease aren’t that closely connected after all.

And, even worse, depriving your body of cholesterol might have prevented one of your vital organs from getting the fuel it needs to thrive…

Cholesterol fuels your brain

Your brain needs cholesterol to grow new nerve cells and for these nerve cells to work properly. And when your brain is deprived of cholesterol, things don’t go so well up there.

In fact, without enough cholesterol, you may even develop serious brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Take a recent study from researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center, for example.

These researchers studied mice who were genetically modified so that their brains were not able to produce cholesterol. Compared to normal mice, these mice had very small brains and severe neurological impairment. In fact, they weren’t able to perform the daily tasks necessary to live, much like a person with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Not only do these mice have trouble learning and remembering, they can’t perform some other normal daily behaviors such as building a nest,” adds C. Ronald Kahn, M.D., senior author of the study, Joslin’s chief academic officer and the Mary K. Iacocca Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Some of these effects were a little bit like Alzheimer’s disease in the mouse, except that they were much more severe.”

And that’s not the only example of how a lack of cholesterol in the brain can lead to severe brain disease. A 2016 study on cholesterol-lowering drugs demonstrated a similar phenomenon… but this time the end result was Parkinson’s disease.

In the study, researchers from Penn State College of Medicine looked at the medical records of more than 30,343,035 people, including about 20,000 people with Parkinson’s disease. Through careful analysis, they determined that people using cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins were at a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s than people who didn’t use these drugs.

Now, statins are known for having a long list of side effects, so it’s not exactly shocking that they can increase your risk of Parkinson’s too…

But, the truth is, it wasn’t just statins that increased the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers found that other types of cholesterol-lowering drugs increased Parkinson’s disease risk also, making the cholesterol-Parkinson’s connection alarmingly clear.

Connecting the dots: Cholesterol and your brain

So what does all this mean for you?

Well, it means if you want to maintain a healthy brain and prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s you need to provide your brain with a steady supply of cholesterol. To keep cholesterol levels healthy in your body and brain, you should follow the advice of Dr. Mark Wiley and focus on eating plenty of foods that increase your good (HDL) cholesterol, like:

  • Olive oil
  • Beans and legumes
  • Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, sardines, and rainbow trout.
  • Flax and chia seeds
  • Nuts like Brazil nuts, almonds, pistachios and walnuts
  • Avocado
  • High-fiber fruits like apples, blackberries, raspberries and pears
  • Red, blue and purple produce like plums, grapes, cherries, raspberries, pomegranates, beets and eggplant.

And if you’re looking for another way to boost your brain health and protect yourself from diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, don’t forget to take your B-vitamins.

Editor’s note: Scientists discovered that glial cells in your brain actually make cholesterol to help your neurons create connections with one another. Your ability to think, form memories and learn — and yes, ALL of your mental functions — are dependent on this process happening smoothly. However, statin drugs harm your glial cells and hinder cholesterol production. To learn more about the statin danger to your brain, click here!

Sources:

  1. “Cholesterol and heart disease: Prepare to be mind-blown.” Easy Health Options. https://easyhealthoptions.com. Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  2. Heather A. Ferris, et al. “Loss of astrocyte cholesterol synthesis disrupts neuronal function and alters whole-body metabolism.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017.
  3. “Cholesterol—Good for the brain, bad for the heart.” MedicalXpress. https://medicalxpress.com. Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  4. “Statin Use Linked to Increased Parkinson’s Risk.” Medscape. http://www.medscape.com/. Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  5. “5 vital reasons your body needs cholesterol.” Easy Health Options. https://easyhealthoptions.com. Retrieved January 24, 2016.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.