Does Healthy Cholesterol Really Lower Risk of Dementia?

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Cholesterol
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Earlier this week, a new study by Kaiser Permanente reported an association between high cholesterol levels and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Researchers followed close to 10,000 people for 40 years and found that people who had high or borderline high cholesterol levels at ages 40–45 had much greater chances of significant mental decline later in life. Risk was 66 percent higher for people with high cholesterol (>240 mg/dL), and 25 percent higher for people with borderline high levels (200–239 mg/dL).

Alzheimer’s is a frightening condition, and these results are provocative. I have no doubt whatsoever that somewhere there’s someone saying, “This is another reason why we need to keep reducing cholesterol.”

But when it comes right down to it, these results merely show that people with high cholesterol tended to have a higher incidence of dementia. They don’t prove that reducing cholesterol will prevent future illness.

If there’s one point I want you to take away from this study, it’s this: Cholesterol is no more than a biological marker that can reveal what’s going on in the body. When it’s high, it usually means there’s usually an underlying problem somewhere—and in this case, those problems also may have had an effect on brain health.

For example, the study provided no information about the general health of the participants, so it’s impossible to know if they had health conditions—such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or being overweight—that would predispose them to inflammation and higher LDL cholesterol levels. (Inflammation has also been linked to Alzheimer’s, and more closely.) We also don’t know about their lifestyle habits. Did they eat diets high in carbohydrates, sugar, or trans fats? These, too, stoke inflammation, and trans fats, specifically, have been shown to destroy brain cells.

If you have high cholesterol, rest assured that you’re not destined for Alzheimer’s. However, I would encourage you to address the risk factors that are causing your LDL cholesterol levels to rise above the optimum level. Avoid excess sugar by following an   organic Mediterranean-style diet rich in fish, DHA-fortified eggs, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; keep your blood pressure in check by better managing stress; and lose weight by exercising every day. If you are a man, keep your waistline to less than 40 inches, and if you are a woman, to less than 36 inches (this helps prevent metabolic syndrome). When these fundamental issues are taken care of, not only will your cholesterol level fall, but you will reduce your risk for all age-related disease.

For more information on the advantages of healthy cholesterol, visit www.drsinatra.com.


 

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