Without cholesterol, we wouldn’t be able to digest food or produce hormones. But, as most of us know, too much cholesterol can cause cardiovascular disease and tax our bodies.
There’s also strong evidence that watching our cholesterol levels may help ward off Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia as well. Learn more about cholesterol and it’s possible link to brain health over time.
Facts About Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fatty, waxy-like substance made by the liver and found in some foods, that circulates in the bloodstream and is vital to the healthy functioning of our bodies. However, too much cholesterol in the blood can be dangerous to the heart and vascular health.
Learn more about low and high cholesterol and symptoms of the two:
Kinds of Cholesterol
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is also called “good” cholesterol, and it actually helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries, as well as helping protect against heart attack and stroke.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol, is the main source of high cholesterol levels.
Symptoms of High Cholesterol
Because there aren’t really any symptoms from high cholesterol in and of itself, many people don’t even know their cholesterol is too high.
However, taking a simple blood test once every five years for adults over 20, according to the National Cholesterol Education Program, can be extremely helpful in identifying your risk. Those at higher risk — including men over 45 and women over 50 — may need to get tested more often.
How Lowering Cholesterol May Help Ward Off Alzheimer’s
Many of the factors that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia are the same as those that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (for example, smoking). This is because the cardiovascular system (made up of the heart and blood vessels) is responsible for delivering blood to the brain.
One of the main factors that can increase a person’s risk for developing dementia includes high cholesterol. There are considerably more factors that can contribute to this likelihood, of course, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
But cholesterol is at the top of the list.
“We found that high cholesterol levels were significantly related to brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” study author Dr. Kensuke Sasaki, researcher at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, said in a written statement.
Researchers tested cholesterol levels of nearly 2,600 people between the ages of 40-79 who had no signs of Alzheimer’s in the study. The researchers checked in on participants 10-15 years later and performed autopsies on 147 people who died, and found 34% of those people had been diagnosed with dementia. The autopsies also showed the hallmark plaques and tangles of the disease, representative of protein buildup in the brain.
The most important finding showed that 86% of people with high cholesterol had these brain plaques. Only 62% of people with low cholesterol had them.
What to Do About High Cholesterol
To lower your risk for high cholesterol, visit your doctor’s office. If your cholesterol levels are normal, that’s great news. If not, it’s time to make some immediate changes.
Unfortunately, medications that reduce cholesterol levels are not a quick fix for preventing Alzheimer’s and they often have too many side effects. You can do a lot on your own to bring your levels down by getting healthier.
To defeat high cholesterol, your best defense is a strong offense. It’s widely known that an Alzheimer’s and high cholesterol risk is increased by depression, diabetes, obesity and smoking. Try to avoid these problems, and be sure to use good common sense about your health:
- Address any and all questions about your health that you’re unsure about, with your doctor.
- Avoid processed foods and refined sugars.
- Don’t smoke.
- Eat lots of fresh foods and vegetables.
- Even walking is exercise. Do it if you can.
- Get as educated as you can about Alzheimer’s and high cholesterol.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Keep depression at bay with exercise for 30 minutes every day.
- Keep your weight in the healthy range.
- Reach out to your community — both in person and online — for support.
What do you know about lowering cholesterol, and what can you do to help monitor your senior loved one’s cholesterol levels? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.