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Longitudinal Study of Low Serum LDL Cholesterol and Depressive Symptom Onset in Postmenopause

J Clin Psychiatry 2016;77(2):212–220

Objective: The aim of this study was to characterize the relationship between serum low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-c) and subsequent depressive symptoms onset in postmenopausal women. We secondarily assessed serum high-density lipoprotein (HDL-c), total cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Method: This population-based prospective cohort study utilizes data from 24,216 women between 50 and 79 years of age who were participants of the Women’s Health Initiative, which originally ran from 1993 to 2005 and has since incorporated 2 extension studies, with the most recent culminating in 2015. Fasting lipids were measured for all participants at baseline and for a subset through 6 years of follow-up. Depressive symptoms were characterized using the Burnam 8-item scale for depressive disorders (Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression/Diagnostic Interview Schedule short form) at baseline and during follow-up, using a cut point of 0.06 to indicate presence of depressive symptoms.

Results: The lowest quintile of LDL-c was associated with an increased risk of subsequent depressive symptoms (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.25, 95% CI = 1.05–1.49, P = .01), and follow-up analyses demonstrated that the elevated risk appeared to be confined to the lowest decile (LDL-c < 100 mg/dL). Further, this elevated risk was moderated by lipid-lowering drug treatment. Elevated risk was demonstrated among those who reported no lipid-lowering medication use (HR = 1.23, 95% CI = 1.03–1.47, P = .02), but not among those reporting use (HR = 0.65, 95% CI = 0.18–2.29, P = .50).

Conclusions: Among postmenopausal women, untreated serum LDL-c below 100 mg/dL was associated with an increased risk of developing depressive symptoms. No excess risk was observed in those attaining LDL-c < 100 mg/dL with lipid-lowering therapy. These findings have important implications for risk assessment, treatment considerations, and mechanistic insight.