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High Cholesterol Linked to Alzheimer's

Study Shows High Total Cholesterol in Midlife Could Raise Risk for Alzheimer's Disease
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WebMD Health News

Aug. 4, 2009 -- Adults with even moderately elevated cholesterol in their early to mid-40s appear to have an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias decades later, a new study shows.

Researchers followed more than 9,800 people for four decades in one of the largest and longest age-related dementia trials ever conducted.

They found that those with high or even borderline high total cholesterol in their 40s had a significantly increased risk for developing Alzheimer's disease years later.

"People tend to think of the brain and the heart as totally separate, but they are not," study co-author Rachel A. Whitmer, PhD of Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif., tells WebMD. "We are learning that what is good for the heart is also good for the brain -- and that midlife is not too soon to be thinking about risk factors for dementia."

Cholesterol and Alzheimer's Disease

The study included 9,844 northern California residents enrolled in the same health insurance plan throughout the study.

Close to 600 had developed either Alzheimer's disease or a related condition known as vascular dementia by the end of the study, when they were in their 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Total cholesterol in the high range at study entry was associated with a 66% increase in Alzheimer's risk, while having borderline high cholesterol raised the risk for vascular dementia by 52%.

According to current guidelines, total cholesterol of 240 or higher is considered high, and a cholesterol of 200 to 239 is considered borderline high.

The researchers did not have information on HDL "good" and LDL "bad" cholesterol because the significance of these different types of lipids was not widely understood four decades ago.

But it is safe to assume that most people whose total cholesterol was high had high levels of bad cholesterol because about two-thirds of total cholesterol reflects LDL, Whitmer says.

Good for Heart, Good for Brain

The study, conducted by researchers with Kaiser and Finland's University of Kuopio, is one of the first to examine risk for vascular dementia, a group of dementia syndromes associated with reduced blood supply to the brain.

Lead author Alina Solomon, MD, of the University of Kuopio tells WebMD that the study adds to the growing evidence that controlling heart disease risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and weight in midlife can protect the brain in old age.

"Keeping your weight down, eating right, and getting regular exercise can keep your heart healthy as you age, and it may also keep your brain sharp," she says.

Alzheimer's Association Chief Medical and Scientific Officer William H. Thies, PhD, agrees that it is increasingly clear that lifestyle influences risk, even among people who have a genetic predisposition for developing late-life dementias.

"We can't really say how much of risk is lifestyle and how much is genetic," he says. "We know that most patients with Alzheimer's also have vascular disease and that the risk factors for vascular disease are modifiable with lifestyle."

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0-199
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200-239
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240+

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Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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