New research emphasizes that what is good for the heart IS good for the brain.
For years, we’ve understood that having high blood levels of “good cholesterol”—HDL or high density lipoprotein cholesterol—lowers your risk of developing heart disease. Now, a December 2010 research publication entitled “Good” Cholesterol May Lower Alzheimer’s Risk” reports that higher HDL levels (56+ milliliters) are also associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
While characterizing HDL and LDL cholesterol as either “good” and “bad” cholesterol is now considered an outdated practice, perhaps that HDL particle does deserve the slang term after all!
In December, we looked at understanding the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and how to prevent it, as well as the heart brain-connection. This latest finding about HDL just reiterates that a heart healthy lifestyle can optimize your brain health as well.
While Alzheimer’s is considered an aging-related disease like heart disease, neither need be a “natural” result of aging. While both may involve genetic predispositions that we cannot control, they are both fueled by environmental factors that we can.
Researchers have long recognized that brain inflammation plays a role in Alzheimer’s, and many now believe that inflammation is the cause, rather than the result of, the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Free radicals, which cause oxidative stress, and inflammatory cytokines, are toxic to the cells of the body, and both are markers for brain inflammation as well as an increased risk for heart disease. Excess free radical activity can lead to chronic inflammation in the body.
Another common thread? The link between aging and either brain or heart disease is related to the fact that free radical activity in the body generally increases as we age, due to longer-term exposure to nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins, and emotional stress.
Not to oversimplify a complex disease like Alzheimer’s, but reducing free radical and other inflammatory activity as much as you can is a “no-brainer” for healthy brain aging, as well as protecting yourself from a host of issues from diabetes to arthritis and more.
In addition to the earlier blog tips for reducing inflammation, remember that moderate aerobic exercise can also help increase your blood levels of HDL cholesterol. Researchers believe that higher HDL cholesterol may also protect against Alzheimer’s because it reduces your risk of stroke, and may also help prevent amyloid-ß proteins from accumulating in the brain.
Other ways to increase HDL blood levels include:
- smoking cessation;
- maintaining an optimum body weight (obesity is associated with reduced HDL levels);
- avoiding trans-fats (which increase LDL, and reduce HDL and blood cholesterol levels); and
- consuming more soluble fiber, as well as monounsaturated and omega-3 fats.
Understanding Alzheimer’s disease better has become a national priority, and on December 15, 2010, Congress passed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA), which is awaiting signature from President Obama. If enacted, this bill will ensure lead creation of a national strategic plan to overcome the rise in Alzheimer’s disease rates.
Remember, you can protect yourself against Alzheimer’s by adopting the anti-inflammatory PAMM diet.