The brain is a big fan of cholesterol, shouldn’t you be too ?

cholesterol resusitating a dopaminergic neuronWe’re programmed to despise cholesterol, because high cholesterol levels are associated with heart disease, on paper at least.

But cholesterol is not inherently EVIL – it is actually a good guy, tasked with patching up things and mixing up a hormonal storm. When levels rise, it is not cholesterol that is making mischief, but a sign of other troubles brewing.

The dopamine maker

Researchers from Karolinska Institute have found, a healthy dose of oxidised cholesterol (oxysterol), is critical to get human embryonic stem cells to grow into dopamine-producing nerve cells, in the laboratory.

The oxysterol effect was not something that only happened in a petri dish, the same phenomenon was documented the development of mice brains’ too. Oxysterol, was found to be responsible for kick-starting the formation of dopamine-producing neurons in mice brains.

Dopamine is a big deal in the brain

The neurotransmitter, dopamine is a major player in brain chemistry.

A variety of disease conditions are characterized by upsets in dopamine chemistry. For people suffering from Parkinson’s disease – the death of the dopamine producing neurons in the substantia nigra regions of the brain, bring on the shakes. While people with ADHD, fidget incessantly, as they strive to supply their brain with enough dopamine to pay attention.

Shots of dopamine ensure that we get off our butt and do something i.e. it helps with motivation, since dopamine is the currency of our reward centre (Nuclear Accumbens). Of course, too much of the stuff, can leave us hanging out in the Nuclear Accumbens Fun Park permanently, so we end up doing nothing constructive and acting a little “potty”.

Growing dopamine brain cells in a dish

Unravelling the secrets to growing dopamine-producing neurons in a dish, is a step towards new treatments for Parkinson’s disease.

Current treatments for Parkinson’s disease primarily focus on putting back the missing dopamine, either directly or indirectly. But there is very little finesse in the process. The drugs tend to act like a dopamine sledge hammer, hitting hard, which leaves lots of very troubling side effects. The drugs also don’t stop the unrelenting damage to the neurons, which underlies the disease, so the problem becomes progressively worse. The disturbed dopamine chemistry slowly strips its victim of their independence and dignity.

The idea of being able to replace the broken part i.e. the dopamine producing neurons of the substantia nigra, is immensely appealing and scientists around the world are searching for ways to make this a reality. This discovery takes the field one step closer to this dream.

Stop cholesterol bashing

But the research also raises some red flags, as we strive to LOWER our cholesterol through diet and drugs. As society “successfully” battles the so-called scourge of cholesterol – brain wiring diseases are definitely on the rise.

In the little ones, diseases like autism and ADHD, have reached epidemic proportions, while older brains are slipping into dementia, at an ever increasing speed. Statin drugs, the poster boys in the anti-cholesterol wars, are definitely associated with fuzzy thinking according to the latest warnings issued by the American Food and Drug Administration.

PS. Statins can also inflict muscle damage.

Brain is a big fan of cholesterol

This research suggests the brain is a big fan of cholesterol.

High cholesterol levels signal an oxidative inferno is smouldering in your body, but banishing cholesterol, won’t put the flame out and might just cause the entire building to go up in smoke.

Dousing the flames requires oxidative stress to be dialled down, getting the 7 Big Spoons™ working for you is a good place to start ….

balance eicosanoids rein in insulin dial down stress sleep vitamin D microflora think
Balance Eicosanoids Rein in insulin Dial down stress Sleep ! Increase Vit D Culivate microflora Think champion
Liver X Receptors and oxysterols promote ventral midbrain neurogenesis in vivo and in human embryonic stem cells. Cell Stem Cell (2009) 5(4): 409-419. Paola Sacchetti, Kyle M. Sousa, Anita C. Hall, Isabel Liste, Knut R. Steffensen, Spyridon Theofilopoulos, Clare L. Parish, Carin Hazenberg, Lars Ährlund Richter, Outi Hovatta, Jan-Åke Gustafsson & Ernest Arenas

Interested in learning more about the chemistry behind fuzzy thinking  ?

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Further reading

cholesterol turning sticky because of sugar cholesterol for heart attack rescue cave man meat
Meet the real villain in the high cholesterol saga Should you feed a heart attack a high fat meal ? Real men need real meat to avoid heart disease

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