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Bad Cholesterol Levels Linked to Alzheimer's Disease

Update Date: Dec 30, 2013 05:22 PM EST

Having balanced cholesterol levels can help protect the brain from Alzheimer's disease.

Previous studies have linked balanced cholesterol levels with better heart health. However, the latest study reveals that people with balanced cholesterol levels have lower levels of the amyloid plaque deposition in the brain, which can increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

"Our study shows that both higher levels of HDL - good - and lower levels of LDL - bad - cholesterol in the bloodstream are associated with lower levels of amyloid plaque deposits in the brain," lead researcher Bruce Reed, an associate director of the UC Davis Alzheimer's Disease Center, said in a news release.

"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," he said.

Experts said that a level of 60 mg/dl or higher in HDL cholesterol is best, and a level of 70 mg/dL or lower is recommended for people at very high risk of heart disease.

The latest study involved 74 males and female participants who were 70 years or older. The study also included three people with mild dementia, 33 who were cognitively normal and 38 who had mild cognitive impairment.

After analyzing PET scans, researchers found that people with higher fasting levels of LDL and lower levels of HDL both were associated with greater brain amyloid.

"This study provides a reason to certainly continue cholesterol treatment in people who are developing memory loss regardless of concerns regarding their cardiovascular health," said Reed, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Neurology.

"It also suggests a method of lowering amyloid levels in people who are middle aged, when such build-up is just starting," he concluded. "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."

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Neurology.

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