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Can high-cholesterol diets control brain disorders?

Could cholesterol be an unlikely hero in treating genetic brain conditions?

High cholesterol is generally associated with blocked arteries and as something detrimental to the average person's health -- but is there a silver lining?

Early studies in mice have indicated this may be the case.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine, based in Germany, have began experiments with mice -- placing them on high cholesterol diets to see what the effects would be in relation to the fatal genetic disease Pelizaeus-Merzbacher.

Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease (PMD), a type of genetic disorder known as a leukodystrophy, causes the body to struggle to produce protective fatty layers around the nerves found in the brain.

Without this layer of fat covering myelin sheaths, there is no insulation -- and this in turn prevents neural messages from being sent properly, affecting motion and control.

The study, published in Nature Medicine, has shown that in these early stages, it is possible that a diet high in cholesterol may improve the layering issue, which would in turn help messages pass naturally through the nerves in the brain.

According to the scientists, mice with PMD "improved dramatically" after being placed on the diet. Once the signs of the condition began to show after the animals were six weeks old, their diet was altered. Those on standard foods deteriorated, whereas those on high-cholesterol diets remained stable.

The scientists said that "this six-week-long cholesterol treatment delayed the decline in motor co-ordination."

It is not currently known whether the same results would manifest in human subjects, and further research is required before it is known when treatments should begin for optimal results, and how far the treatment should go before a prolonged high-cholesterol diet becomes detrimental to other elements of health.

It may not be able to cure the fatal condition, but if a dietary change could alleviate the effects, it's certainly worth researching further.

(via BBC)

Image credit: Flickr

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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