Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Hyperlipidemia and IQ

The New York Times > Health > Vital Signs: Abilities: The Smart Side of Cholesterol

People with high levels of cholesterol do better on a variety of tests measuring mental ability, researchers from Boston University have found. The study, led by Dr. Penelope K. Elias, appeared in the January/February issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

The findings grow out of information compiled by the long-term Framingham Heart Study, and are based on the medical histories of 789 men and 1,105 women over about 18 years.

Although high cholesterol increases the risk of serious illness, including heart disease, the researchers found that when it comes to the brain, it may be a slightly different matter.

When the volunteers were given tests to measure mental skills like memory, concentration, abstract reasoning and organization, those with cholesterol levels that were borderline-high or greater (200 and above) scored somewhat better.
I wanted to find this interesting for two reasons:

1. I've long been interested in the neuropsychiatric effets of lipid-lowering agents. For pete's sake, lipids determine a lot of the physical properties of the cell membrane. There's long been a concern that some lipid-lowering agents seemed to be associated with a higher risk of accidental death and many have wondered about a connection between lipid-lowering agents and neuronal function.

2. Hyperlipidemia is fairly common, yet it seems to only have downsides. That's a bit odd, even for an inbred species like the east african planes ape (humans).

Alas, there's probably a reason this wasn't published in a major medical journal. Doing this kind of analysis on a data set obtained for an unrelated measure has a high risk of finding a misleading association. Even if the association were true it could be that both mental skills (IQ) and hyperlipidemia were related to wealth -- and thus lots of Haagen-Daas ice cream.

So, despite my enthusiasm, I suspect this is probably meaningless.

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