In addition to being good for the heart, high levels of the ‘good’ cholesterol may protect against Alzheimer’s disease, U.S. researchers said.
The study found that people over 65 who had the highest levels of high-density lipoprotein or HDL were 60 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over four years than people with the lowest HDL levels.
Total cholesterol levels consist of three components: HDL, LDL or low-density lipoprotein and triglycerides. While high total cholesterol can increase the risk of health problems including heart disease, HDL is the exception and is thought to protect against heart attack, according to the American Heart Association.
Another good aspect of the news was that it did not seem to matter if people had high HDL levels naturally or if they took widely used drugs called statins to increase “good” cholesterol levels, the researchers found.
Alzheimer’s disease gradually damages brain cells, afflicting 60 percent of those older than age 95, according to researchers. This is an incurable disease that affects 26 million people globally and costs $604 billion to treat.
By raising HDL, “you can probably lower the frequency of Alzheimer’s disease in the population,” said Dr. Christiane Reitz of Columbia University’s Taub Institute in New York, whose study appears in the Archives of Neurology.
Bloomberg News reported that this study adds to other research that has shown a link between cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and weight and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life, the association said.
Having a HDL cholesterol level of 60 or higher gives “some protection” against heart disease, according to the heart association. Low HDL is less than 40 for men and less than 50 for women, the group said.
Reitz said the team looked specifically at people with probable or possible Alzheimer’s disease, rather than vascular dementia or other forms of dementia. They also looked at other cholesterol measures, such as total cholesterol, LDL and blood fats known as triglycerides. ”We looked at each of those measures independently. It seems to be an isolated effect for HDL,” Reitz said, adding an HDL reading of 55 or greater is achievable by changing diets and exercising.
A personal note on Alzheimer’s. I had an aunt who was afflicted with it. I took care of her the last six years of her life and saw first hand the decline in mental and physical ability take place. The disease is a death sentence on the person who gets it, but it is a scourge on the family of the victim who must watch helplessly as a loved one declines. At this moment there is no cure for it. Anything you can do to reduce your chances of getting it is worth the effort.