Study finds links between Alzheimer’s disease, fluctuating blood lipid levels

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This representational picture shows a man holding a loaded sandwich. — Unsplash/File
This representational picture shows a man holding a loaded sandwich. — Unsplash/File

Where there is delicious food, there is caution. It is common knowledge that, despite the deliciousness it brings to food, high levels of grease lead to high cholesterol, which can lead to health issues.

On top of that, a recent study found that having a high level of total cholesterol that varies significantly over a five-year period may also be problematic because it increases the risk of developing dementia in the future.

“This study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that addressing certain modifiable risk factors and promoting healthy behaviours can reduce the risk of cognitive decline, possibly reduce the risk of dementia, and protect cognitive health,” said Christopher Weber, director of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association, via email. He was not involved in the study.

The research that was released in the journal Neurology on Wednesday revealed that researchers studied nearly 11,700 adults with an average age of 71.

They also discovered that those with the highest levels of total cholesterol variability had a 19% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease-related dementia, also known as ADRD, within the next 12 years.

According to the research’s lead author, Suzette J. Bielinski, a genetic epidemiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, “prevention strategies for Alzheimer’s and related dementias are urgently needed”.

“Routine screenings for cholesterol and triglyceride levels are commonly done as part of standard medical care,” Bielinski added. She suggested that fluctuations in results help identify dementia risk, understand dementia development mechanisms, and potentially reduce risk by levelling them out.

According to CNN, the new study aims to understand the relationship between lipid levels, including cholesterol and triglycerides, and Alzheimer’s and related dementias, which researchers were unable to achieve in previous studies.

The researchers analysed the health records of predominantly White adults from Minnesota who had not been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or related dementias.

Participants’ lipid levels were gathered on at least three different days in the five years before the start of the study on January 1, 2006, and then researchers tracked whether participants developed Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias through 2018.

In addition to total cholesterol, the study tracked triglycerides, a type of fat that comes from butter and oils; low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also known as LDL or “bad” cholesterol; and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, known as HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol.

In the Neurology study, variations in LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol) weren’t associated with a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias. But those with the most fluctuation in triglyceride levels had a 23% higher risk compared with participants who had experienced the least variation.

Lipids and neurodegenerative disease

The study found a link between cholesterol and triglyceride levels and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia risk. However, it had limitations, as it focused on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, did not differentiate between types, and did not have data on participants’ lipid levels between 2006 and 2018.

“Further studies looking at the changes over time for this relationship are needed in order to confirm our results and potentially consider preventative strategies,” Bielinski said.

Exactly how varying lipid levels and risk for Alzheimer’s or related dementias are related remains unclear, Bielinski said. Experts do have theories on the mechanics, though, as CNN reported.

Meanwhile, Weber said that cholesterol fluctuations negatively impact brain vascular health, increasing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. This can lead to plaque instability in the arteries, causing brain damage and later cognitive impairment.

How to maintain balanced blood lipid levels

To maintain healthy lipid levels, brain function, and heart health, lifestyle adjustments like exercise, avoiding sugar and refined carbohydrates are essential. Additionally, it is also important to lose weight, choose healthier fats, and limit alcohol.

However, if these aren’t enough, medications or supplements may be prescribed to lower cholesterol or triglycerides.

“Always consult your doctor or healthcare provider if you are concerned about your cardiovascular health, cholesterol levels, or cognitive decline,” Weber said via email.



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