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Jan 2nd, 2014

High cholesterol is often connected to heart disease and even stroke, but typically not Alzheimer's. A recent study has changed all that by linking cholesterol and Alzheimer's and is among the many pointing to environment and lifestyle as a major contributor to the disease.

Cholesterol and Alzheimer's

Researchers analyzed the relationship between cholesterol and Alzheimer's by evaluating 74 people over the age of 70. They were checked for both cholesterol levels and then underwent brain scans to analyze the amount of beta amyloid plaques in their brains. Beta amyloid plaques are essentially clusters of proteins that tangle over time, causing cognitive problems. The plaques are often the main tangible indicator of Alzheimer's.

What they found is that individuals with high levels of bad cholesterol, or low density lipoprotein (LDL), were more likely to have higher amounts of beta amyloid plaques in their brains. Low levels of good cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL), were also associated with a large number of plaques. On the flip side, high levels of good cholesterol were associated with fewer plaques.

"Unhealthy patterns of cholesterol could be directly causing the higher levels of amyloid known to contribute to Alzheimer's, in the same way that such patterns promote heart disease," says Professor Bruce Reed, leader of the study and a neurologist at the University of California.

Reducing the Risk

The findings of the study were published recently in the scientific journal JAMA Neurology. Scientists aren't quite sure of the reason for this association, but it has shown itself in a clear way.

To better reduce our cholesterol and effectively reduce our risk of not only heart disease, but dementia, too, focusing on healthy habits is key. Though some researchers have suggested using cholesterol-lowering statin drugs to help cut the risk of dementia, clinical trials have not yet shown this method to be successful.

Bad cholesterol is most often associated with red meat, but it exists in the same amount in most meats like beef, pork, and chicken. Animal products are the only food products that contain cholesterol, while plant sources of food have absolutely none at all. To help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of dementia in a simple way, swap out some of the animal products you consume for more whole food plant sources.

Healthy Habits

ost Americans are already consuming way too much meat and cheese and not nearly enough fruits and vegetables, so by adding in more fresh produce and plant sources of protein like nuts, beans, and legumes, you will be benefitting your health in more ways than one.

Other ways to lower your cholesterol naturally include exercise, not smoking, maintaining a health weight, and regular doctor visits to ensure both your cholesterol and blood pressure are at healthy levels. As the number of Americans in need of long term care begins to skyrocket in the midst of Baby Boomers retiring, practicing these habits can help you avoid chronic and degenerative diseases and keep you healthier for longer.

To learn more about other environmental causes of Alzheimer's and dementia, read more about sleep habits and Vitamin D deficiency. If you haven't yet arranged a financial plan for the possibility of long term care, read more about how best to prepare for high health care expenses in retirement.

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