September is National Cholesterol Education Month. What does that have to do with dementia? Possibly a lot.
Most doctors and researchers believe that what is good for the heart is good for the brain. Since it's pretty well accepted that high levels of low density cholesterol can lead to heart attacks and strokes, it seems logical that high levels of low density cholesterol could also damage the brain.
Exercise and diet are generally the preferred ways of controlling cholesterol levels. Omega 3 fatty acids, found in some fish such as salmon and tuna, help raise the "good" cholesterol, known as high density cholesterol. High density cholesterol sort of "scrubs out" the arteries, and may even lower levels of damaging low density cholesterol, so doctors often recommend that we eat several helpings of fatty fish a week, and/or take fish oil capsules.
Awhile back, I wrote about a study addressing this subject in More Encouraging Research on Fish and Healthy Brains, and recent research seems to back up this theory.
If diet and exercise don't keep our cholesterol in check, doctors often prescribe statin drugs, which not only help regulate our cholesterol levels, but according to some studies, may have a preventative effect when it comes to Alzheimer's. One of those studies is addressed in the article Statin Study Shows Promise for Alzheimer's Disease.
Vascular dementia is thought to be the second most common dementia after Alzheimer's. It would seem to follow that keeping our whole vascular system clog free would help minimize our chances of developing this type of dementia. I watched the effects of vascular dementia on my uncle after a series of strokes. One of the saddest parts of his vascular dementia was that he developed aphasia, which is an acquired language disorder. In my uncle's case, aphasia prevented him from properly labeling objects.
One day, while I was visiting him in the nursing home, he demanded that I fix his "magazines." I touched one object in his room after another, starting of course with his neatly stacked magazines, as I questioned him about what he wanted me to fix.
Nearly purple with rage, he continued to shout, "No! My magazines!" Eventually, I discovered he needed his razor fixed. I tear up as I remember this, and vow to do what I can so my family doesn't have to go through a similar situation with me, as I age. There are no guarantees, but one gift I can give those I love is to at least try to stay healthy.
Whether we are concerned about Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, stroke, or heart attack, research seems to lead us back to the same place. Exercise, diet and keeping cholesterol levels in check are thought to be vital preventative measures, so we are encouraged to do our best in these areas.
Unless this theory is disproven by many future studies, I'll keep taking my fish oil and pushing myself to exercise. If what is good for the heart is good for the brain, we have a win/win situation and it's up to me to do what I can to follow through.
The only thing that can get in the way is self-discipline. I know I often need a nudge to do the right thing for my body. That seems to be the point behind National Cholesterol Education Month. Knowledge is power, but nagging is still often needed. This month, let's work on better cholesterol control, if not for ourselves, then for those who love us.
Published On: September 10, 2010