Memory Maximizers: Cholesterol & AD Risk; Middle-Age Fitness & Dementia

Here's the latest research to help you keep your brain sharp.

Watch Your Cholesterol to Lower Alzheimer’s Risk

New findings concerning cholesterol’s effects on the brain underscore the importance of controlling cholesterol levels to remain cognitively healthy. A study published Dec. 30, 2013 in JAMA Neurology suggests that having high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol increases your risk of developing the toxic beta-amyloid plaques that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Scientists recruited a group of 74 older adults, three with mild dementia, 38 with mild cognitive impairment often characteristic of early stage dementia, and 33 who were cognitively normal. The participants underwent brain scans to determine the levels of amyloid plaque in their brains and blood tests to measure their levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol. The researchers found a direct association between participants’ cholesterol levels and the quantity of plaque in their brains, with more plaque found in participants who had higher levels of LDL and lower levels of HDL and less in those with low LDL and high HDL. Ideal cholesterol is generally considered to be a measurement of 60 milligrams (mg) of HDL cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood or higher, and a level of 100 mg/dL or lower of LDL cholesterol. “If you have an LDL above 100 or an HDL that is less than 40, even if you’re taking a statin drug, you want to make sure that you are getting those numbers into alignment,” the study’s co-author said. To improve your cholesterol levels, experts recommend that you:

  • Consume a healthy diet low in saturated fats and rich in nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish with omega-3 fats
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes per day, five days per week
  • Avoid exposure to tobacco smoke
  • If you consume alcohol, drink moderately
  • Consider taking a statin medication if your LDL cholesterol levels remain high

Self Ratings of Fitness in Middle Age Linked to Dementia Risk

People who rate themselves as being in poor physical shape in middle age are four times as likely to develop AD or another dementia in their later years as individuals who rate themselves as physically fit. That’s the conclusion of a study published Jan. 20, 2014 in the Journal of Internal Medicine. The researchers identified more than 3,500 participants who had been asked to rate their fitness levels while they were in middle age and reviewed their medical histories for 30 years from middle age to older age. The research found an especially strong association between self-ratings and dementia in study participants who had chronic diseases, suggesting that maintaining good physical fitness is especially important for people with chronic diseases. Factors leading to a low level of physical fitness included being overweight, being physically inactive, having poor mental health, lack of education, smoking, and isolation. The researchers said that specific choices individuals make that help them feel physically better may substantially decrease their future risk of developing dementia, and suggested that individuals whose self-ratings are low consider strategies to improve their fitness, including:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Increasing social activity
  • Making better dietary choices
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