Fluctuating cholesterol numbers linked to higher dementia risk

MINNEAPOLIS — Maintaining more consistency over your blood fat levels can lead to better brain health. New research shows that fluctuating cholesterol and triglyceride levels in older people may increase their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive conditions in comparison to people with steadier numbers.

“Prevention strategies for Alzheimer’s and related dementias are urgently needed,” says study author Suzette J. Bielinski, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic in a media release. “Routine screenings for cholesterol and triglyceride levels are commonly done as part of standard medical care. Fluctuations in these results over time could potentially help us identify who is at greater risk for dementia, help us understand mechanisms for the development of dementia and ultimately determine whether leveling out these fluctuations could play a role in reducing dementia risk.”

For this work, the team used health care data to identify 11,571 people over the age of 60 who didn’t have a previous diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. They looked at markers like total cholesterol, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein “bad” cholesterol (LDL), and high-density lipoprotein “good” cholesterol (HDL) on at least three different days across the five years before the study started.

Cholesterol test -- results show high cholesterol
(© jarun011 – stock.adobe.com)

Participants were then divided up into five groups based on how much fluctuation researchers found. The lowest group had the least amount of variation over time, while the highest group varied the most. Over the 13-year following period, 2,473 people developed Alzheimer’s disease or another related dementia.

The researchers also adjusted for competing factors like sex, race, education, and lipid-lowering medications. After doing so, they found that for total cholesterol, those in the highest group had a 19-percent higher risk of dementia compared to the lowest group. Those in the highest group showed a 23-percent increased risk when looking at triglycerides.

LDL cholesterol is typically viewed as “bad” while HDL cholesterol is viewed as “good.” Interestingly, the team didn’t find an association between variations in LDL and HDL and increased dementia risk.

Although this study found a link between cholesterol changes and dementia, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest there is a definitive link between the two. Further, the study just looked at Alzheimer’s and related dementia as a whole rather than distinguishing between the different types on a more detailed level.

“It remains unclear why and how fluctuating levels of cholesterol and triglycerides are related to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” explains Bielinski. “Further studies looking at the changes over time for this relationship are needed in order to confirm our results and potentially consider preventative strategies.”

The findings are published in the journal Neurology.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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