8 Jun 2011

Alzheimer's disease linked to mid-life cholesterol

Alzheimer’s disease takes many years to develop and, with an aging population, it has become increasingly urgent to discover ways of preventing this, the most common form of dementia, from taking hold. 
Previously,  high cholesterol in mid-life has been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  Now researchers at Kaiser Permanente’s Research Division and at the University of Kuopio, Finland, unveil the longest, and largest, study to link high cholesterol with Alzheimer’s disease.  They also find a link with vascular dementia,  which suggests some overlap in the two forms of dementia.
A group of nearly 10,000 men and women had their cholesterol levels measured between 1964 and 1973 and were then followed up for around 40 years. During this time, there were 469 patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and 127 with vascular dementia.  Taking a baseline of less than 220 mg/dL cholesterol, the researchers say that raised levels increase the risk of both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia in later years.  That is, having cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dL increases Alzheimer’s disease risk by 66% and even borderline levels, between 220 and 240 mg/dL, increase the risk of both forms of dementia.  This study is notable because it includes a large and diverse group of people - previous studies on Alzheimer’s disease and high cholesterol have been more limited.
Around 100 million Americans are estimated to have cholesterol levels that are higher than desirable. Worse, many do not even know it! The take home message is to be aware of your cholesterol figures (this means total cholesterol but also the high and low density lipoprotein cholesterol figures).  And if they stray beyond desirable levels, there are both lifestyle modifications that can be made and medications, like statins, which are proven effective in cholesterol lowering.  It is surely worthwhile aiming for a healthy cholesterol figure if the payoff is a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

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