High cholesterol increases Alzheimer’s risk

Consumer Reports News: September 13, 2011 11:13 AM

High cholesterol levels not only increases your risk of heart attack but also Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published this week in the journal Neurology.

Back in 1988 researchers in Japan measured the cholesterol levels of 2,587 people aged 40 to 79 who had no signs of dementia. Then, between 1998 and 2003, they examined the autopsy reports on 147 people who had died. Of those, 50 people, or 34 percent, had been diagnosed with dementia before death.

What’s more, those with cholesterol levels of 226 mg/dL and higher had significantly more brain plaque—an accumulation of a form of the protein amyloid, which occurs between the nerve cells and a trademark sign of Alzheimer’s disease—when compared to those with normal or lower cholesterol levels.

Lowering your cholesterol helps prevent heart attack and stroke, and now this latest research suggests an added bonus—a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. Previous studies have shown that people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are more likely to develop Alzheimer's, and that treating those conditions early on can help slow memory decline. And in general, anything that protects the heart and blood vessels, thereby facilitating blood flow to the brain, might help fend off Alzheimer's.

According to Orly Avitzur, M.D., a board-certified neurologist and Consumer Reports medical adviser,

We know that a high cholesterol level is associated with an increased risk of vascular dementia, and now this study suggests that it plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease as well. It appears that one of the best measures we can take to preserve our cognitive abilities is to control high cholesterol.

Bottom line: See our advice on lowering high cholesterol levels, which includes consuming more fruits and vegetables and fish and less saturated fat and trans fat. And see our other tips on how to protect your memory as you age.

Association of Alzheimer disease pathology with abnormal lipid metabolism [Neurology]
Vascular risk factors promote conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer disease [Neurology]

Ginger Skinner

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