HDL Cholesterol May Help Protect Against Alzheimer's Disease
I recently had my annual physical, complete with blood tests. My doctor sent me the results and there’s one that I’m extremely happy to see - my high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (which is the healthy kind) is 61. HDL, according to the Mayo Clinic, acts as “cholesterol scavengers, picking up excess cholesterol in your blood and taking it back to your liver where it’s broken down. The higher your HDL level, the less ‘bad cholesterol’ you’ll have in your blood.” You’re at-risk for heart disease if your HDL is less than 50 mg/dL for women or less than 40 mg/dL for men.
That’s good news in so many ways, but why am I sharing this information with you on this HealthCentral site? It turns out that having a high level of HDL may also be a factor in helping stave off Alzheimer’s.
A study recently published in the Archives of Neurology found that high levels of “good” cholesterol may protect older adults from developing Alzheimer’s. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, researchers reviewed data from a group of 1,130 New York City residents who were age 65 and older and who had no obvious cognitive impairment. These study participants then underwent a series of medical, neurological and neuropsychological tests over a three-year period from 1999 to 2001. The researchers then followed the participants over a four-year period and found that those having an HDL reading greater than 55 had a 60% decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. And the New York Times reporter Roni Caryn Rabin wrote, “The differences between the two groups held even after the researchers adjusted the figures to account for other causal factors that influence the development of dementia, like vascular disease, as well as age, sex, education level, and genes that predispose to Alzheimer’s.”
So how can you increase your HDL cholesterol? According to the MayoClinic, you can make the following lifestyle changes:
- Quit smoking. Ending this habit can increase your HDL cholesterol by up to 10 percent.
- Lose weight. For every six pound lost, your HDL may increase by 1 mg/DL.
- Exercise. “Within two months of starting, frequent aerobic exercise can increase HDL cholesterol by about 5 percent in otherwise healthy sedentary adults,” the MayoClinic website reports. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. Aim for exercises that increase your heart rate, such as walking, running, cycling, swimming, and raking leaves.
- Dietary changes. Avoid foods that contain saturated and trans fats, which raise LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and damage blood vessels. Instead, use more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (olive, peanut and canola oils) that help improve HDL’s anti-inflammatory capabilities. In addition, nuts, fish and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids can help improve your ration of LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol. In addition, whole grains (oatmeal, oat bran and whole-wheat products), nuts, and plant sterols have a healthy effect on blood cholesterol levels.
- Drink in moderation – Moderate use of alcohol has been linked to higher levels of HDL cholesterol. Aim for no more than one drink a day for women and everyone over age 65 and two drinks a day for men.
Medications also can increase HDL cholesterol. These include niacin (Niaspan), fibrates, and statins. Be sure to talk to your doctor when considering these. And, as always, try to maintain a healthy lifestyle as your primary way of raising your HDL cholesterol.