As you probably already know, high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure lead to an increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
Interestingly, some types of strokes also contribute to an increased risk of depression, while abnormal blood lipid levels can raise the risk of depression in the elderly.
And now, new findings by French researchers suggest that the link between high cholesterol levels and depression may be more complicated than previously imagined.
They evaluated a large population of elderly men and women (aged 65 and over) over a seven year follow-up period, assessing them for symptoms of depression and measuring their lipid levels.
In women, depression was associated with low levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL), the ‘good' form of cholesterol. This put them at higher risk for vascular disease, including stroke, by increasing their risk for developing lesions in their blood vessels called atherosclerotic plaques.
On the other hand, the men who were at greater risk of depression had low levels of the ‘bad’ form of cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL). This was especially true for those men with a genetic vulnerability to depression.
This finding in men raises troubling questions. Although this pattern of low LDL levels should theoretically protect them from developing cardiovascular diseases or stroke, it seems it may also increase their mental health risk at the same time.
These results suggest that clinical management of abnormal lipid levels may reduce depression in the elderly, but different treatments will be required according to the gender of the patient.
Blood levels of LDL are clearly an important biological marker in men, with a narrow range for normal functioning. Above this range, risk of cardio- or cardiovascular diseases increases and below it, men face an increased risk of depression.
In other words, careful management of LDL levels seems to be especially necessary in men.
Based on these new data, it seems clear that doctors should regulate cholesterol levels in both male and female patients carefully but differently, through a customized combination of diet and medication.