Cholesterol Levels at Midlife May Influence Development of Amyloid Plaque

Dorian Martin Health Guide

    When you go to the doctor’s office for a wellness visit, be sure to find out what your cholesterol levels are. Do you have really good numbers on the HDL cholesterol? Or are your LDL levels really high? Those numbers may determine whether you might be quietly developing the brain plaques that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease.


    A new study out of the University of California, Davis found that high levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, also known as “good”) cholesterol as well as low levels of low-density (LDL, also known as “bad”) cholesterol have a correlation with lower levels of amyloid plaque deposits. These deposits are a key characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

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    The study involved 74 men and women who were 70 years of age or older and who represented a diverse population. Each participant was recruited from either a California stroke clinic, a support group, a senior facility or an Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Thirty-three of these participants were cognitively normal, 38 had mild cognitive impairment and three participants had mild dementia.


    The researchers identified each participant’s amyloid level through using a tracer that binds with these plaques and then using PET scans to image the brain. They found that higher fasting levels of LDL as well as lower levels of HDL were associated with greater levels of amyloid plaque in the brain.


    The researchers noted that watching cholesterol in mid-life is important because that’s t time when amyloid levels start building up. “"If modifying cholesterol levels in the brain early in life turns out to reduce amyloid deposits late in life, we could potentially make a significant difference in reducing the prevalence of Alzheimer’s, a goal of an enormous amount of research and drug development effort,” said Dr. Bruce Reed, the associate director of the UC-Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the study’s lead author.


    What levels should you be aiming for? “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,” said Dr. Charles DeCarli, director of UC-Davis’ Alzheimer’s Disease Center and an author of the study. “You have to get the HDL up and the LDL down.”


    So how can you do this? The Mayo Clinic recommends the following options beyond just using medications:

    • Lose weight. Your cholesterol levels can go down even with modest weight loss (think five to 10 pounds).
    • Focus on a healthy diet. A diet that has lots of fiber and other cholesterol-lowering foods can make as much difference as stain medications in some people. The Mayo Clinic recommends opting for monounsaturated fats (olive oil, peanut oil and canola oil) as opposed to saturated fat. Also try almonds and walnuts as a healthy source of fat. Eliminating trans fats – which are often part of margarines and commercially baked cookies and crackers – can make a difference since these foods increase bad cholesterol while lowering good cholesterol.
    • Limit cholesterol in your diet through not eating a lot of organ meats, egg yolks and whole milk products. Instead, consume lean cuts of meat, egg substitutes and skim milk.
    • Opt for whole grains – whole-grain breads, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat flour, oatmeal and oat bran and brown rice – which are part of a heart-healthy diet.
    • Focus on produce. Fruits and veggies offer a lot of dietary fiber, which can lower cholesterol.
    • Add more fish to your diet. Think salmon, mackerel and herring – due to their omega-3 fatty acids – or cod, tuna and halibut (which have less total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than most other types of meat).
    • Consume alcohol in moderation.
    • Exercise regularly. Aim for 30-60 minutes a day, which can be a brisk walk, swim, or cycling. You can also opt to do multiple 10-minute intervals throughout the day, if that works better in your schedule.
    • Don’t smoke – and if you do, stop!

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    Mayo Clinic. (2013). High cholesterol.


    University of California Davis Health System. (2013). High good and low bad cholesterol levels are healthy for the brain, too. Press Release.

Published On: December 31, 2013