Lowering Your Cholesterol May Reduce Your Risk Of This Dementia
Approximately 5.8 million Americans are now living with Alzheimer's disease, and this number could increase to around 14 million by 2050. With this form of dementia on the rise, the medical community is working diligently to find preventive treatments.
While there isn't one sole cause of Alzheimer's, researchers have found the condition is likely caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors. While we can't do much about our genetics, eating a healthy diet and completing physical and mental exercises early in life are thought to help protect the brain down the line. And a new study published in JAMA Neurology just found another way to potentially reduce your risk of the disease: Keep your cholesterol in check.
The study found a link between high LDL cholesterol, otherwise known as "bad" cholesterol, and early-onset Alzheimer's disease irrespective of genetic risks.
What's the difference between early- and late-onset Alzheimer's?
Early-onset Alzheimer's is a rare form of the disease that people develop before the age of 65 (late-onset Alzheimer's, the more common form, affects people ages 65 and older). Previous research has suggested a link between late-onset Alzheimer's and high cholesterol, but less research has been done on the connection between early-onset Alzheimer's and cholesterol.
How are LDL cholesterol and early-onset Alzheimer's linked?
The researchers sequenced genomes of 2,125 people, some of which had early-onset Alzheimer's. They found that about 10% of the early-onset Alzheimer's cases could be explained by APOE E4, a gene mutation that's known as the most significant genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. Another 3% could be attributed to gene variants commonly associated with early-onset Alzheimer's, but the rest could not be explained.
Therefore, they tested people's blood cholesterol levels and found that people who had high LDL levels were more likely to have early-onset Alzheimer's disease than those with lower LDL levels. Interestingly, this was the case even when they took genetics out of the equation.
"One interpretation of our current data is that LDL cholesterol does play a causal role. If that is the case, we might need to revise targets for LDC cholesterol to help reduce Alzheimer's risk. Our work now is focused on testing whether there is a causal link," Thomas Wingo, M.D., the lead author of the study, said in a statement.
What's the deal with cholesterol?
Cholesterol gets a bad rep, but in reality, we need it to keep our cell structure in place (it also helps with digestion and making hormones). There are two types of cholesterol: HDL cholesterol, which actually helps the body remove LDL from the arteries. LDL is referred to as "bad cholesterol" because too much can cause a buildup of plaque on the walls of our blood vessels, which in time could lead to a heart attack.
If you're wondering if you have high LDL, you may want to get tested by your doctor and talk about how you can lower your levels. In the meantime, you can eat foods that naturally help lower bad cholesterol and boost good cholesterol. (Think hemp seeds, coconut oil, and walnuts.) In addition to incorporating some of these options into your diet, getting more exercise, and cleansing your environment of toxins may also help in lowering LDL.
What does this mean for us?
Well, more research is needed to determine if high LDL can cause early-onset Alzheimer's, but this study highlights the need to revisit the potential risk factors associated with high LDL.
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Caroline Muggia has a B.A. in Environmental Studies & Psychology from Middlebury College. She received her E-RYT with Yoga Works and is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. A writer and environmental advocate, she is passionate about helping people live healthier and more sustainable lives. You can usually find her drinking matcha or spending time by the ocean.