Good Cholesterol May Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Good Cholesterol May Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

senior man with glasses

Dec. 13, 2010 — Having higher HDL, or “good” cholesterol, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, new research suggests.

Experts say the new study, which was published Monday in the Archives of Neurology, is further evidence of a link between heart disease and dementia, and if the finding is backed by more research, doctors think it may point to a way that people can reduce their risk of both brain and heart trouble later in life, by boosting HDL.

“If you do things for your coronary vascular health, it clearly appears to modify your Alzheimer’s risk as well in a way we don’t completely understand.” says James R. Burke, MD, PhD, associate director of the Bryan Alzheimer’s disease research center at Duke University in Durham, N.C., who was not involved in the study.

“It’s been clearly demonstrated that you can have a big bang for your buck in terms of your heart with HDL, and now there’s initial evidence, at least, that people who have the lowest levels of HDL at least are at a significantly increased of Alzheimer’s disease, and perhaps if you modify that, then you would modify your risk,” Burke says.

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HDL and Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers at Columbia University in New York followed 1,130 seniors who had no history of memory trouble or dementia.

Every 18 months for an average of four years, participants got a battery of blood, brain, and memory tests. By the study’s end, doctors had diagnosed 101 cases of suspected Alzheimer’s disease.

When researchers compared the cholesterol levels of study participants with and without Alzheimer’s, they found that those with the highest HDL counts, over 55 mg/dL, had about a 60% reduced risk of developing the disease compared to those whose levels were under 39 mg/dL.

“Basically, what we found is that higher levels of good cholesterol decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” says study author Christiane Reitz, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Neurology at Columbia University’s Taub Institute.

Reitz and her team also found that people with high LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and high total cholesterol had a decreased risk of developing dementia, but when they took into account other conditions known to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, or a genetic predisposition, LDL and total cholesterol were no longer significant predictors in their own right.

“HDL was the only one which actually stayed significant and was not explained by any of the other risks factors,” Reitz says. “For HDL it seems to be an independent association with Alzheimer’s disease with, independent of diabetes, high blood pressure and so on.”

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