Since we were young we’ve been told to keep our cholesterol levels low because it would be better for our health. While that may be true when it comes to heart health, what may be sufficient for an individual’s heart might not be the same for the mind.
As a matter of fact, cholesterol levels are closely associated with the brain and play vital roles in psychological function and neurologic disorders when not enough of it is available.
Cholesterol is extremely important for cognitive function. While your brain represents about 2-3 percent of your total body weight, 25 percent of that cholesterol in your body is found in your brain.
Cholesterol plays important roles in such things as protecting membrane function, acting as an antioxidant and serving as the raw material from which we are able to make things like progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, testosterone and even vitamin D.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is an organic molecule with a waxy and fat-like consistency that is found in every cell in the body. It has important natural functions when it comes to digesting food, producing hormones, etc.
Cholesterol is the building block of steroid hormones including cortisol as well as the male and female sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen. This organic compound is also an important aspect of the membranes that surround all human cells. These membranes, aside from just holding cells together, have an essential role in regulating cell function and allowing chemicals to pass in and out of these cells.
Contrary to popular belief, the body does not rely on a diet to get its cholesterol levels because most of the cholesterol in the blood is made in the liver. Vegetarians are a prime example because their meals primarily consist of fruits and veggies, and they have low blood cholesterol levels that reduce their risk of cancer, yet they still have enough cholesterol to maintain their cells and regulate their hormones.
But what exactly does cholesterol have to do with the brain?
The Correlation Between Your Brain and Cholesterol
Your brain has a higher cholesterol count than any other organ in your body. Most of that cholesterol is in the myelin sheaths that surround the axons of nerve cells to protect the cells and facilitate transmission of electrical currents for thought, movement and sensation.
The brain is extremely dependent on cholesterol because without it the brain cannot do its job. Since the blood-brain barrier prevents brain cells from taking up cholesterol from the blood, the brain produces its own cholesterol. The brain’s cholesterol is much more stable than the cholesterol in other organs, but when it breaks down, it is recycled into new cholesterol right in the brain.
Because of the blood-brain barrier, changes in blood cholesterol levels are not necessarily reflected in the brain itself. In addition, the barrier keeps many chemicals, including medications as well as toxins, away from the brain.
Final Thoughts on Cholesterol
Although some may say that cholesterol is just bad for you, it is really not as bad as some people may think, if you’re getting the right cholesterol. Your liver makes about 75 percent of your body’s cholesterol, and there are two types of cholesterol:
High-density lipoprotein (HDL): Known as the good cholesterol, HDL helps your brain and keeps cholesterol away from your arteries, preventing heart disease by removing excess from the arterial plaque.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): Known as the bad cholesterol, LDL circulates in your blood causing build up in your arteries, forming plaque that can increase the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Scientists have learned a lot about cholesterol and the brain, but they still have a long way to go. What they all have in common is advising us to maintain a healthy level of good cholesterol in order to keep you and your thinker healthy.